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June 27, 2017

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Few voters show on Egypt's 3rd poll day

CAIRO--Egyptian authorities scrambled to rescue the country's presidential election from the embarrassment of low voter turnout, but few people trickled to the polls Wednesday even after the balloting was extended for a third day.

A low turnout will likely rob the all-but-certain winner, former army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, of the overwhelming show of public support he sought in the vote.

Turnout is key for Sissi, because he is looking to prove to critics at home and abroad that his ouster last July of the nation's first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, reflected the will of the people.

Only a handful of voters or none at all were at polling centers in three districts toured by an Associated Press reporter Wednesday morning. TV Images beamed live from more than a dozen locations across Egypt showed very few voters at polling centers. In some cases even none.

Opponents say the lack of enthusiasm at the polls reflects deep discontent with Sissi, 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.

Sissi's supporters in the Egyptian media — which have been cheerleaders for the retired field marshal since his toppling of Morsi — have been in a panic. 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 Mohammed Morsi to power. Tell him `Your excellency, President Mohammed Morsi, please come out and rule us."'

The abrupt decision by the election commission Tuesday to add another day of voting also raised complaints that authorities were tipping the playing field in Sissi'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.

The campaign of Sissi's sole opponent in the race, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, protested the extension, saying it aimed to "distort" the will of the people. It also pulled its representatives from polling stations Wednesday in protest against what it called intimidation and sometimes arrests of its campaign workers.

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