CAIRO A leading Islamist candidate said on Tuesday he was confident he would win enough votes in Egypt's first real presidential election to seal victory in the first round, and said anybody associated with Hosni Mubarak was unfit to lead.
In an interview with Reuters, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh said he expected to win a majority of votes among members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which he was expelled over his decision to seek the presidency. The group is fielding its own candidate for the historic vote.
"We are working and organizing on the basis that we will win from the first round and not in the run-off," the 60-year old said, speaking at his suburban Cairo villa. "As elections approach, our chances of winning are increasing."
Described as a moderate reformer during his years in the Brotherhood, Abol Fotouh has emerged as a front-runner in the May 23-24 vote, finding support among both liberals and Islamists and presenting himself as a consensus choice. However, his critics say he presents an unclear ideological vision as he seeks to be all things to all people.
Egypt's first presidential election since Mubarak's overthrow in February 2011 is widely expected to go to a run-off between the top two candidates in June.
Slamming one of his main rivals, Amr Moussa - a former Arab League chief who served as Mubarak's foreign minister - Abol Fotouh said the Egyptian people would not vote for the same system they toppled.
"I hope that no member of the old regime is elected because we are in a new republic, we have new criteria to manage the state and those who were raised in the arms of the former regime and brought up with its thinking are unfit," he said.
Egypt's ruling military has approved a law that bans top Mubarak-era officials from running for the presidency, which would exclude his last prime minister and potentially allow Moussa to pick up more votes.
"Let us be logical, all those who participated with the old regime, helped it, or kept in silence over the crimes the regime committed against Egypt belong to the former regime," he said, referring to Moussa.
Moussa's transfer to the Arab League in 2001 was widely seen as a bid by Mubarak to push him out of government because of his growing domestic popularity. He has been away from government for Mubarak's last decade in power.
MOST OF THEIR VOTES
Abol Fotouh still commands broad respect in the Muslim Brotherhood, a group he helped lead for decades. The group had initially decided against contesting the presidency and expelled Abol Fotouh for defying its wishes. But it then changed course, deciding to enter the race in March.
The Brotherhood's first choice was disqualified last week and the group is now banking on its reserve candidate, 59-year old Mohamed Mursi. But the soft-spoken Mursi is widely seen as a less charismatic figure than Abol Fotouh.
"God willing, we will take most of the Brotherhood's votes," Abol Fotouh said, smiling. "I am against the hegemony of one party in all institutions of power, even if it is by democratic means." The Brotherhood holds close to half the seats in parliament.
Abol Fotouh said he was an independent candidate who could deliver reform to meet the expectations of activists from Tahrir Square.
But, offering the type of broad self-description that incensed his critics, he also called himself "the candidate who represents all political currents in Egypt - whether Islamists, liberals or leftists and who enjoys a unanimous approval from those powers".
One area of debate has been his vision for the economy, since his advisory board includes at least one Marxist as well as liberals. But he sees no contradiction.
"The world is now heading towards a compromise between the old system of capitalism and the old system of socialism," he said. "And this is what represents the foundation of Egyptian thought that is based on Islamic civilization."
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry; Writing by Dina Zayed; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)