CAIRO: Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was on course for a sweeping victory in Egypt’s presidential election Wednesday, his campaign said, picking up over 93 percent of the vote in a poll marred by low voter turnout.
The Sisi campaign said the former army chief’s only rival, Hamdeen Sabahi, picked up 2.9 percent while 3.7 percent of the votes were deemed void, as few people trickled to the polls even after the balloting was extended for a third day.
Judicial sources said just 44.4 percent of the electorate turned out to vote, a figure well below the nearly 52 percent turnout in the 2012 election won by the Islamist Mohammad Morsi, the president whom Sisi ousted last summer.
In his last campaign TV interview last week, Sisi set the bar even higher, saying he wanted more than 45 million voters to cast ballots, a turnout of more than 80 percent – to “show the world.”
The turnout is key because he is looking to prove to critics at home and abroad that his ouster of Morsi and crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists reflected the will of the people.
Critics say the lack of enthusiasm at the polls is in part due to deep apathy among even Sisi supporters, knowing that his victory was a foregone conclusion.
Others say it shows deep discontent with Sisi, not just among his Islamist foes but also among a broader section of the public that says he has no solutions for Egypt’s woes and fears he will return Egypt to the autocratic ways of Hosni Mubarak.
The tepid polling is particularly embarrassing because the government and media have been whipping up adulation for Sisi the past 10 months, depicting him as a warrior against terrorism and the only person able to tackle Egypt’s woeful economy, high unemployment, inflation and instability.
Sisi’s supporters in the Egyptian media have been in a panic the past two days. Political talk show hosts and newscasters have been berating people to vote, warning that otherwise the Brotherhood will be encouraged to step up its challenge to the new government.
Prominent TV talk show host Amr Adeeb angrily said that by not voting, Egyptians might as well “go directly to the prison and return Mohammad Morsi to power. Tell him ‘Your excellency, President Mohammad Morsi, please come out and rule us.’”
The abrupt decision by the election commission Tuesday to add another day of voting raised complaints that authorities were tipping the playing field in Sisi’s favor.
U.S.-based Democracy International, which has been observing the vote, said Wednesday that the extension “raises more questions about the independence of the election commission, the impartiality of the government, and the integrity of Egypt’s electoral process.”
It said its observer teams outside of Cairo had ended their mission as scheduled Tuesday, meaning they would not be observing polls Wednesday. Some other international monitoring teams also left the country, since they had only planned for two days of voting, though EU monitors continued to observe.
Only a handful of voters or none at all were at polling centers in multiple districts toured by Associated Press reporters Wednesday. At some, music played from tents and kids painted Egyptian flags or Sisi’s name on their faces, while occasionally a voter drifted into the station. TV images beamed live from more than a dozen locations across Egypt showed similar scenes.
“People are lazy, depressed or frustrated. They knew what the result will be even before the vote,” said Amani Fikry, a manager in a privately owned company who said she voted earlier. “They are exhausted from three years of constant troubles.”