Egypt votes for third day with eyes on turnout


Cairo (AFP)

Egyptians were voting on Wednesday in the third day of a presidential election guaranteed to give a second term to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, leaving turnout as the only contest.

Voters trickled into polling stations as authorities encouraged them to show up in high numbers.

The country's election authority warned it would implement a law fining people who do not vote 500 pounds (about $30), saying that not voting "serves the interests of people who hate the country," state television reported.

Sisi won his first term in 2014, a year after the former army chief ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against him.

He won that election with 96.9 percent of the vote, against a left-wing candidate.

This time, his serious rivals withdrew citing restrictions, were sidelined or arrested.

His sole rival is the little-known Moussa Mostafa Moussa, himself a Sisi supporter.

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail urged voters to participate, saying on Tuesday it "is a national duty for all citizens."

State television showed voters at different polling stations and played patriotic music.

Some 60 million people in Egypt, the most populated Arab country, were registered to vote on March 26, 27, and 28. Official results are expected on April 2.

In the 2014 election, turnout reached 37 percent after the polling, initially planned for two days, was extended by a day.

- Opposition urged boycott -

The election authority denied polling would be extended for a fourth day in this election.

Opposition groups had called for a boycott of the election which they labelled a facade.

There were no presidential debates and Sisi himself did not appear in any official campaign events, although he spoke at a number of ceremonies.

In an interview days ahead of the vote, Sisi said he had wished there were more candidates, denying any role in sidelining them.

At a speech before the vote he also called for a high turnout.

"I need you because the journey is not over," Sisi told a mostly female audience. "I need every lady and mother and sister, please, I need the entire world to see us in the street" voting.

Morsi's removal had ushered in a deadly crackdown that killed and jailed hundreds of Islamists.

A jihadist insurgency since has killed hundreds of policemen and civilians.

The Islamic State group's Egyptian affiliate, which has carried out a number of deadly attacks, has threatened to target election infrastructure.

On Saturday, two policemen were killed in a car bomb targeting the provincial head of security for the northern Alexandria governorate. The security chief was unharmed.

Egyptian cities, especially Cairo, are flooded with banners showing Sisi and messages of support from business owners. Posters vowing support for Moussa, 65, are rarely seen.

While still popular, Sisi has embarked on tough economic reforms that have been welcomed by foreign investors but dented his popularity at home.