Egypt extends election amid low turnout concerns
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Voting for Egypt’s presidential election has been extended into a third day, state media said Tuesday, amid reports of lower than expected turnout that could threaten the legitimacy of the eventual winner.
The vote had been due to end at 10pm (1900 GMT) Tuesday but has now been extended until Wednesday, state TV quoted an official in the body overseeing the election as saying. The extension would allow the “greatest number possible” to vote, said the official.
Low turnout would be seen at home and abroad as an immediate setback for frontrunner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who toppled Egypt’s first freely elected leader, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi.
Although Sisi is poised for an almost certain victory, he and his backers seek a large turnout to send a message to the West - as well as to his domestic opponents - that Morsi’s ouster was not a coup but another popular revolution.
However, The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies, who view Sisi as the mastermind of a coup against Morsi, have called for a boycott of the election. Many secular critics, meanwhile, worry that yet another military man as president will mean a return of the autocratic policies of former president Hosni Mubarak, toppled in a 2011 popular uprising.
The military-backed government had launched a determined effort to get out the vote.
The justice ministry said Egyptians who did not vote would be fined, and train fares were waived in an effort to boost the numbers. Local media loyal to the government chided the public for not turning out in large enough numbers.
One prominent TV commentator, a government loyalist from the Mubarak days, said people who did not vote were “traitors, traitors, traitors”.
Al-Azhar, a state-run body that is Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, said failure to vote was “to disobey the nation”, state TV reported. Pope Tawadros, head of Egypt’s Coptic church, also appeared on state TV to urge voters to head to the polls.
However, lines outside polling stations in various parts of Cairo were short Tuesday, and in some cases no voters could be seen.
Monday’s turnout ‘at 10-15 percent’
There have been no official figures released on turnout so far, but Hani Abdel-Latif, spokesman of the Interior Ministry, told the Associated Press that security reports estimated that at least 30 percent of the nearly 54 million registered voters cast ballots Monday and the first five hours of voting Tuesday.
But the campaign of Sisi’s only opponent in the election, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, said its representatives at polling stations estimated turnout Monday at only 10-15 percent.
It is the second time Egyptians are electing a president in two years, and it is the seventh vote or referendum since 2011.
The limited showing on Monday and Tuesday 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.
Morsi won more than 13 million votes, or 26 percent of the electorate, in 2012, in a vote where turnout was 52 percent.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)