As far lower than expected voter turnout threatened to damage the credibility of former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, widely expected to win Egypt’s presidential election, authorities hastily added a third day of voting, according to Reuters.
After months of adulation by the media, encouraged by his supporters in government, the security services and business, many Egyptians were shocked when the election failed to produce the mass support predicted by Sisi himself.
The stakes are high for Sisi. Poor backing in the election would mean Sisi’s legitimacy as head of state of the Arab world’s most populous nation would be harmed.
“The state searches for a vote,” said a front-page headline in the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. The two-day vote was originally due to conclude on Tuesday but was extended until Wednesday to allow the “greatest number possible” to vote, state media reported. Commentators considered the extension to be an embarrassing attempt to attract every last vote from a reluctant electorate.
Unlike the previous election which brought the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi to power and was contested by a dozen candidates, Sisi faces only one token rival now: the leftist Hamdeen Sabahi.
Lines outside polling stations in various parts of Cairo were short on Tuesday, even though the military-backed government had launched a determined effort to get out the vote, declaring Tuesday a public holiday. The justice ministry said Egyptians who did not vote would be fined, and train fares were waived in an effort to boost the voting numbers.
Local media loyal to the government chided the public for not turning out in large enough numbers. One prominent television commentator said people who did not vote were “traitors, traitors, traitors”.
Al-Azhar, a state-run body that is Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, said a 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.
Turnout in the 2012 election won by Morsi was 52 percent – a level this vote must exceed for Sisi to enjoy full political legitimacy, said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University. Were it to fall short, then he will have failed “to read the political scene”, he said. Sisi had called for a turnout of 40 million, or 80 percent of the electorate.
Sisi’s campaign has been short of detailed policies. He has announced his priorities as fighting Islamist militants who have taken up arms since Morsi’s removal, and reviving an economy badly in need of tourists and investors.