Lower voter turnout threatens Sisi mandate
Cairo, May 28, 2014
Egyptians cast their votes in a presidential election on Wednesday that is certain to install former army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as president, but his call for an overwhelming mandate did not appear to have been heeded by voters.
Tareq Al-Shibl, a member of the election committee, was quoted by Al Ahram, a state-run newspaper, as saying that more than 21 million people voted, or nearly 39 percent of an electorate of 54 million.
That would be less than the 40 million votes, or 80 percent of the electorate, that Sisi had called for last week.
However, a Western diplomat following the vote put the turnout at between 10 million and 15 million votes, which would equate to between 19 and 28 percent of the electorate, much less than the official projection.
The lower turnout figure threatens to undermine Sisi's credibility as leader of the Arab world's most populous nation.
It would also suggest that he had failed to rally the support he hoped for after toppling Egypt's first freely elected president, Islamist Mohamed Mursi, following street protests last year.
A tour of Cairo polling stations on Wednesday saw only a trickle of voters cast their ballots. The same pattern emerged in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, Reuters reporters said.
In a country polarised since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the lower than expected turnout was linked to political apathy, opposition to another military man becoming president, discontent at suppression of freedoms among liberal youth, and calls for a boycott by Islamists.
The two-day vote was originally due to conclude on Tuesday but was extended until 9 pm (1800 GMT) Wednesday to allow the "greatest number possible" to vote, state media reported. "The state searches for a vote," said a front-page headline in privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.
The Democracy International observer mission said the decision to extend polling raised questions about the integrity of Egypt's electoral process.
"Last-minute decisions about important election procedures, such as a decision to extend polling by an additional day, should be made only in extraordinary circumstances," said Eric Bjornlund, president of Democracy International, in a statement.
Sisi's campaign posted pictures of long lines of voters, some waving Egyptian flags and holding posters of Sisi. "Come out and raise the flag of your country," it said on Facebook.
A 45-year-old Cairo shopkeeper, who gave her name as Samaa, said at a polling station in downtown Cairo she was supporting Sisi. "Our country can now only be handled by a military man, we need order."
But no long queues could be seen. An army officer reading a newspaper outside the same Cairo polling station said: "You want to speak with voters? Do you see any voters? I don't know why they're not coming, maybe they reject politics."
Khaled Dawood, a liberal activist, accused the electoral commission and the government of running a chaotic election.
"The feeling is that the result is known in advance and this kind of festival they were creating for Sisi backfired because people no longer buy into this propaganda.
"People in Mubarak's days did not participate because they knew that their vote wouldn't make a difference and that is what is happening now," he said. - Reuters