CAIRO (Reuters): Voting got off to a slow start on the second day of Egypt’s presidential election, which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to win easily, as authorities urged people to turn out and give the former general a strong mandate.
Sisi says he is seeking a second term to repair the economic damage from years of political turmoil, defeat insurgents and revive Egypt’s role as a pre-eminent Arab power.
Critics have slammed the three-day election as a sham; his only opponent is an obscure politician considered a Sisi loyalist. More serious challengers were forced to step down and several opposition politicians called for a boycott of the vote, saying repression had removed credible challengers.
But authorities hope that over three days it can mobilise a decent turnout. The president still has many admirers, although austerity measures in recent years and a fierce crackdown on Islamists, secularists and liberals have reduced that support.
Brigadier General Ali Hareedi, head of the government’s central elections operations room, said that the first day of voting produced a high turnout “which proves the Egyptian people’s awareness”. He gave no figure.
Pro-Sisi media described ballot centres flooded with voters.
“Millions of voters gather in front of polling stations … and rejoice in every square,” ran a headline in the newspaper Al-Akhbar.
Two sources monitoring the election, including one from the National Election Commission, said about 13.5 per cent of 59 million eligible voters cast ballots on Monday. If that rate is repeated on Tuesday and Wednesday, the turnout would be 40 per cent.
Sisi voters seek stability
Sisi, who in 2013 led the military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, took 47 per cent of the vote when he was first elected, in 2014.
Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said if the government failed to mobilize voters and publicly admitted turnout of below 40 per cent, “Sisi would come out of the elections weakened and more vulnerable to domestic pressure.”
That seems unlikely, the consultants said, but the pace of voting appeared leisurely, according to Reuters reporters.
The election aroused little interest in Cairo’s working class districts. And at three voting centres in middle-class Dokki, no queues formed and only a handful of people trickled in to vote, about one every five minutes.
Most people voting for Sisi defended his economic policies and lack of democratic life. The blamed their woes on the Brotherhood, saying it had created instability that led to the flight of tourists and investment, and high inflation.
Saeed Mohieddine, 67, a retired employee, said: “I voted for Sisi for the achievements he made. He crushed terrorism, built new cities and started new development projects.
“Inflation started six years ago during the Brotherhood days, Sisi didn’t find anybody to stand against him,” he said. “Not everything can be done at once. The country needs to get going,” he said in reply to critics accusing Sisi of autocracy.
Ahmed Adel, a 50-year-old stock broker, said he voted for Sisi because he had brought stability and security.
“I can now walk in the street feeling secure,” he said.
Only two people at polling centres hesitated to say whom they voted for as security men kept a close watch.
The election commission has said the vote would be free and fair, and Sisi said he would have liked more candidates running.
Sisi has said he will not seek a third term, but critics expect him to remove a two-presidential term limit.