Egypt’s election commission has extended voting in the country’s presidential poll for a third day as turnout has been low, depriving the front runner, former military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, of a convincing popular mandate.
Following mixed results on Monday, including a turnout of 20 per cent in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, talkshow hosts called on Egyptians to vote and the government declared yesterday a holiday for civil servants to encourage them to go to the polls. A fine of €51 will also be imposed on those who do not cast ballots.
This is the second presidential poll since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and Mr Sisi was always set to win by a landslide. Leftist rival Hamdeen Sabahi stood, although he knew he never had a chance. Therefore, many people feel their vote will not make a difference.
Analyst Mona Anis said Mr Sisi’s popularity had been declining in recent months, perhaps due to “overexposure” in the media, and Egyptians were suffering from voter fatigue as this was the 10th popular consultation since Mubarak was toppled.
Ms Anis said she did not believe the Muslim Brotherhood's boycott was a key factor as the movement is widely reviled due to its disruptive and often violent campaign to reinstate Mubarak's elected successor, Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood loyalist who was removed by the army last summer.
Fatima, a volunteer at a polling station in the upscale Cairo district of Zamalek, said the numbers could be lower than in previous elections because “no one is bribing voters with oil, rice, sugar, tea and cash or providing transportation to polling stations. The numbers this time may be real, not inflated.”
She and other volunteers were directing voters to the right rooms and assisting the elderly, who were arriving in a steady stream to cast their ballots. A wheelchair was on hand for those who could not walk.
Youth vote The absence of young voters prompted Najwa, an enthusiastic supporter of Mr Sisi, to argue loudly: "It's lie that the young aren't coming."
Nationwide, youths between the ages of 18 and 30 constitute 40 per cent of the population.
Mr Sabahi has claimed the youth vote and said failing to turn up bolsters the boycott declared by the Muslim Brotherhood, which still insists the presidency belongs to Mr Morsi.
To encourage devout Egyptians to vote, Dar al-Ifta, the official body that issues religious edicts, said “positive participation” would counter those who “misuse” religion, referring to the Brotherhood.
The election has been largely peaceful, although a small homemade bomb exploded in the Heliopolis district of the capital, injuring one person. On Monday Brotherhood supporters attempted to prevent voters from entering polling stations in Kerdasa and a device exploded harmlessly in Fayoum. Pro-Morsi protesters were dispersed in Cairo and Alexandria.
Among 30 people detained were journalists including Irish national Orla Guerin of the BBC, whose team was held briefly, disrupting an interview with the widow of a man killed during the dispersal of pro-Brotherhood protests last year. She has since returned to reporting.