Sisi closes in on presidency as govt seeks bigger turnout
CAIRO – Former army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is expected to emerge from a second and final day of voting on Tuesday as Egypt’s next head of state.
Seeking to boost turnout that appeared low on the first day of voting, the government declared Tuesday a holiday and extended voting by an hour so that polls would close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT). The central bank also declared a bank holiday.
With victory for Sisi a foregone conclusion, the turnout is seen as crucial to shoring up the legitimacy of the field marshal who toppled Egypt’s first freely elected head of state, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi last July.
The limited showing contrasted with parliamentary and presidential elections held after Mubarak’s overthrow, when voter lines were measured in the hundreds and stretched far into the streets leading to the polling stations.
Sisi himself had called for a record turnout. He enjoys backing from Egyptians worn down by three years of turmoil since Mubarak’s downfall in 2011.
Polling stations were guarded by soldiers, some in black face masks, with plain clothes police also in evidence. Sisi faces only one challenger: the leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the 2012 election won by Morsi. Other candidates who contested the election won by Morsi did not run, saying the climate was not conducive to democracy following a crackdown on Islamist and other opposition groups.
The Brotherhood, which came first in both parliamentary and presidential polls held after Mubarak’s downfall, has been driven underground in a campaign of repression that has killed hundreds of its followers and landed thousands more in prison.
Sabahi’s campaign described turnout on the first day as “moderate, and below moderate in some cases.” In a statement, it said there had been many violations, including physical assaults on Sabahi representatives, and “intervention by police and army.”
The Brotherhood had called for a boycott, while other Egyptians described the election as a waste of time.
“Egyptians make history,” declared Al-Ahram, the state’s flagship newspaper, showing a snaking line of men waiting to vote.
“Egyptians choose the president and declare the end of the Brotherhood,” announced Al-Masry Al-Youm, an independent newspaper hostile to the Islamist movement that was toppled after mass protests against Morsi’s rule last year.
On Monday, lines at 20 Cairo polling stations visited by Reuters consistently over the past three years appeared shorter than in previous elections. The interior minister said turnout was good.
As the polls opened at 9.00 a.m. (0600 GMT) on Tuesday, there was no line at one Cairo polling station. At two others, around a half dozen people were waiting in line, fewer then on Monday when the queues there had been measures in dozens.
Though young Egyptians – the generation that drove the 2011 uprising – were often hard to spot at polling stations on Monday, 19-year old Hamdy Abdelrahman was one of the first to cast his ballot on the second day of voting. “This country needs a military man now – someone who understands everything including laws, someone who can control the country,” Abdelrahman said. — Reuters