CAIRO // Egypt’s presidential election was extended for a third day on Tuesday, in an effort to boost low voter turnout.
The move followed what election monitors, local media and political observers described as a lacklustre showing in a poll that was virtually certain to make former military chief Abdel Fattah El Sisi the next president.
Mr El Sisi’s campaign had hoped for a high turnout to add legitimacy to his rise to power after he played a leading role in the removal of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi following vast anti-government rallies last summer.
The former military chief has ridden a wave of support and nationalist fervour ever since and while victory in the election is almost certain, wide participation would bolster his position.
Talk-show hosts and television presenters sympathetic to Mr El Sisi urged people to get out and vote.
“Where are the people? Where are the people?” said one television presenter, who criticised Egyptians for not expressing more interest in the seventh national vote since the 2011 uprising overthrew Egypt’s leader for almost three decades, Hosni Mubarak.
Another presenter, Ibrahim Eissa of the privately-run ONTV, said the issue “clearly revealed that the Sisi campaign has no electoral machine”.
Still another presenter called on citizens, including employers and neighbours, to search out those who had not voted in the poll by examining whether thumbs were stained with ink.
The only other candidate in the election, Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist who ran for president in 2012 and supported the military’s removal of Mr Morsi in July, described the turnout as “moderate, and below moderate in some cases”. His campaign complained of a number of violations by security personnel on the first day of voting that ranged from violence to preventing his supporters from accessing polling stations.
Election officials warned yesterday that they would impose fines of $72 (Dh 264) – a significant sum for many Egyptians – on abled-bodied voters who did not cast ballots.
Voting was extended by an extra hour to 10pm and the government announced that the second day of the election would be a public holiday to enable the 5.5 million government workers more time to cast ballots.
Despite concerns of violence, voting occurred without much incident.
Exact turnout figures were unclear with some reports confirming an expectedly low turnout in areas that had in the past been strong support bases for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist group, which was banned in September and designated a terrorist organisation in December, had called on Egyptians to boycott the vote. Hundreds of Brotherhood members were killed and many arrested in the crackdown against the group after Mr Morsi was removed from power.
Another potential worry for Mr El Sisi and Mr Sabahi is the country’s bulging youth population. Initially encouraged by the promises of the 2011 uprising, many of them appear to now be apathetic and disinterested in the presidential vote.
Among those not hopeful about the poll was Ahmed Sayed, 30, who said he supported Mr Sabahi despite knowing that the 59-year-old candidate was all but certain to lose. Sitting at a cafe in downtown Cairo on Monday, he said he was considering casting a vote on Tuesday to protest against the heavy military presence across the country’s cities.
*Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press