Countdown to Egypt's presidential election begins

Gamal Essam El-Din , Friday 23 Mar 2018

Mass participation in the presidential elections sends the message that Egyptians reject extremism, observers tell Gamal Essam El-Din

Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi
Girls walk by a poster of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo (photo: Reuters)

The 28-day official campaign period for the presidential elections will close on Saturday, allowing 48 hours for reflection before the polls open.

Voting will then take place between 9am to 9pm on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday says Lasheen Ibrahim, chair of the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

“If a run-off is required, a second round of voting will be held between 24 and 26 April for citizens inside Egypt,” says Ibrahim.

Not that anyone expects a second vote will be necessary, or that President Al-Sisi will win by anything but a landslide.

Political analyst and independent MP Samir Ghattas told Al-Ahram Weekly the interest of the vote does not lie in who will win but in what the results say about the extent to which “President Al-Sisi remains popular among the public”.

“The most important thing to follow in next week’s poll is the turnout rather than what the final result will be,” political analyst Abdel-Moneim Said said in a TV interview.

Said argues a high turnout will come as a blow to those who urged Egyptians to boycott the poll.

A large turnout will not only be a setback to the Muslim Brotherhood but a defeat for radical leftists who led the boycott campaign, he says.

President Al-Sisi has called upon the public to make their voices heard. “What is important is that citizens turn out in large numbers to vote.

The message of mass participation will be that Egyptians support their country and its political project.” He also vowed the poll will be marked by integrity. “The results will be declared in a very transparent way.”

Said said that while the Ghad Party candidate Moussa Mustafa Moussa had led a good campaign “in terms of experience, ambition and achievements Al-Sisi will be the choice of most Egyptians.”

Ghattas says there are already signs the turnout will be high.

“There was a record turnout among Egyptian expats when they began voting last week. It was completely surprising to see expats standing in long lines before polling stations in Egyptian embassies and consulates worldwide, waving national flags and holding posters of President Al-Sisi.”

“So many people turned up to vote, embassy staff could not take any breaks,” Wael Gad, Egypt’s ambassador to the UAE, told Al-Ahram.

Mubarak Al-Khiring, deputy chairman of the Kuwaiti National Assembly and head of the Egyptian-Kuwaiti Parliamentary Friendship Association, told reporters on Tuesday that “it was the first time in my life to see such large numbers of Egyptian expats keen to cast their votes”.

“From what I saw I think President Al-Sisi will gain an overwhelming number of votes.”

Political commentator Hassan Abu Taleb agrees a massive turnout will send a message to the outside world that “Egyptians are favouring moderation and prefer to maintain the status quo for another four years.”

The high turnout of expats will encourage those at home to head out and vote, he says. “It helps overcome election fatigue and the way difficult economic conditions might dissuade many from voting,” he argues. “I think millions will be mobilised to vote.”

Ghattas notes that the NEC’s decision to spread the poll over three days “was designed to allow record numbers to vote”.

MPs are coordinating with political parties and pro-government businessmen to hold large rallies across Egypt. Mohamed Al-Sewidi, head of the majority Support Egypt parliamentary bloc, said all of its 370 MPs will be busy on voting days encouraging citizens to cast their ballots.

Essam Khalil, head of the Free Egyptians Party, told the Weekly “this vote is a matter of life and death for us.”

“We know President Al-Sisi will win but this is not enough for us. We want huge numbers to turn out and tell the Muslim Brotherhood, those who called for a boycott and the hostile Western media that they no longer have a voice in Egypt.”

NEC head Ibrahim said the count would begin in the presence of representatives of the two candidates, election monitoring bodies and the media, as soon as polling stations close on Wednesday.

The vote will be supervised by 17,000 judges, and 1,558 local journalists and 680 foreign correspondents are expected to cover the ballot.

Sources say 30,000 policemen will be mobilised to safeguard polling stations. Major General Mahmoud Tawfik told Al-Ahram on Saturday that “Central Security Forces across the country will be on alert to help defuse any attempts to disrupt the poll.”

Ibrahim says the results of the vote will be announced “on 2 April at the latest”. 

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 

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