SUN 24 - 3 - 2019
Mar 28, 2018
The Daily Star
Authorities hope for decent turnout in Egypt vote
CAIRO: 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 Islamist insurgents and revive Egypt’s role as a pre-eminent Arab power. A military campaign in north Sinai Peninsula is currently underway to crush Daesh (ISIS) militants.
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 mobilize 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.
Brig. Gen. 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 centers flooded with voters.
Two sources monitoring the election, including one from the National Election Commission, said about 13.5 percent of 59 million eligible voters cast ballots Monday. If that rate were to be repeated both Tuesday and Wednesday, the turnout would be 40 percent.
At a polling station in Fayoum, a bastion of Islamist support 100 kilometers south of Cairo, an election official reckoned turnout at 25 percent, only to be quickly corrected by an army officer who said “over 50.”
One woman, a 55-year-old civil servant, said she voted partly because her employer encouraged her to, but also because “there’s security now, it’s not like Iraq, Syria or Yemen.”
Her husband did not vote though. “He’s not happy about the economy, we hope it will improve but God only knows. Not everyone is voting because not everyone is convinced [by Sisi].”
Sisi, who in 2013 led the military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, took 47 percent 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 percent, “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 centers 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. They 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, said: “I voted for Sisi for the achievements he made. He crushed terrorism, built new cities and started new development projects.”
Sisi has said he will not seek a third term, but critics expect him to remove a two-presidential term limit.
At a polling station in the Nile Delta city of Beni Suef south of Cairo, a judge said 471 voters out of the registered 3,592 cast their votes Monday. That number rose to 510 voters by 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Faten Othman, 40, a teacher, said she’d spoiled her vote. “Nothing good has been done,” she said. “[There are] high prices ... and whoever speaks goes to jail.”
In North Sinai, meanwhile, with many people afraid to leave their homes amid the fighting against militants, barely any voters cast their ballots in parts of the restive peninsula on the first day of the election, local officials and residents said.
“I went to vote because I was waiting in line to pick up bread” being handed out by the army, schoolteacher Selim Ahmad told Reuters by phone from his town of Sheikh Zuweid.
“The polling station happened to be nearby so I voted. People here are waiting for food baskets, of which there are few. They’re not queuing up to vote,” he said.
Ahmad Raouf, an official overseeing voting in another area in Sheikh Zuweid, near the border with the Gaza Strip, said only one person had been into the polling station he was supervising.
“That’s out of an electorate of 6,000 people in this area. People are scared to come out because of the ongoing military operations and threats [by militants] of targeting polling stations,” Raouf said.
However, in the North Sinai town where militants killed Muslim worshippers in November turnout was higher. An official said tribal leaders mobilized people to vote en masse.
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