First day of 2014 presidential vote passes smoothly

Ahram Online , Monday 26 May 2014

The first day of Egypt's presidential election passes without violence and only minor protests; both campaigns of Sabahi and El-Sisi claim violations; PM designates Tuesday a government holiday

polling station
A woman shows off her inked thumb outside a polling station in Cairo May 26, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Egyptians took to the polls on Monday – the first day of a presidential election many expect will bring former military chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to the helm of power in Egypt.

The day was unexpectedly uneventful, taking into consideration several militant attacks – frequent in Egypt since the ouster of former Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

One improvised explosive device was detonated near a polling station in Fayoum but led to no injuries, while police said another six were diffused in three locations including Giza and the Nile Delta governorate of Kafr El-Sheikh.

No military or police personnel were gunned down, a fate befalling hundreds of them since August, when a pro-Morsi sit-in was violently dispersed by police.

The election day also saw minimal clashes between security forces and supporters of Morsi. Police dispersed three protests in Cairo and Upper Egypt's Minya.

The pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) had previously called on Egyptians to boycott the vote.

An El-Sisi campaigner was shot dead Monday morning in Giza's Kerdasa district – the attack, however, took place hours before polling stations opened. In contrast, January's constitutional referendum saw 10 killed in the first day of voting in clashes between pro-Morsi protesters and security forces.

A heavy police and army presence throughout the country and directives by the army to avoid carrying bags to polling stations or parking near them reflected a heightened apprehension regarding the election's safety.

While El-Sisi is expected to make a landslide win, as he did in last week's expat vote – where he garnered 93 percent of the vote – Ahram Online was able to speak to supporters of both El-Sisi and his only contender, Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi.

El-Sisi is the right man for the current stage and will be able to save the country from the conditions it is suffering from, Madiha Hassan, a physician, told Ahram Online as she stood in line at a polling station in 6 October city, west of Giza.

Others view Sabahi as more representative of the 25 January revolution.

Lamia, a public relations consultant in her mid-30s, said she was voting for Sabahi due to her belief that Egypt should have a civilian president.

"I am very grateful to El-Sisi for having removed the Muslim Brotherhood, but I hoped El-Sisi would have stayed on as defence minister," she told Ahram Online. "He is a great man but I don’t want to have the military involved in the political process again."

Varying degrees of voter turnout were reported throughout the day, but few voters could be seen during the intense afternoon heat.

Despite the the Presidential Election Commission's (PEC) assertion that turnout can't be gauged before it releases the official figures after the vote, groups expressed their own perceptions.

Sabahi's campaign said in a mid-day press conference that its reports indicated a modest turnout but expressed hopes that more people would show up after sundown. They especially urged young people to come out and vote, driven by the belief that youth will pick Sabahi.

The pro-Brotherhood NASL said Egyptians have rejected the vote.

"The Egyptian youth who led the 25 January revolution have showed the world by their boycott of the election that Egypt has a legitimate president (Morsi)," the coalition's statement read.

According to the PEC, close to 14,000 polling stations are operating throughout the country, making it difficult to confirm any speculations about turnout.

Shortly after polling stations closed, the government backtracked on earlier comments made by PM Ibrahim Mahlab that Tuesday would be a normal working day declaring the second day of voting a holiday for more than 6 million government employees in order to allow them to vote.

Violations were reported, but not on a large scale or different in type to ones reported in the 2012 presidential poll, such as campaigning outside polling stations, leading voters and collective voting.

Sabahi's campaign claimed security forces prevented some of their representatives from entering polling stations, which prompted them to file official complaints. They also reported that a military vehicle blared pro-El-Sisi slogans.

El-Sisi's campaign also reported come violations, including delays in opening some polling stations, preventing some of the campaign's representatives from monitoring operations inside polling stations.

None of the campaigns, however, expressed any doubts as to the overall integrity of the vote. This is the first Egyptian election to be monitored by the European Union, which previously held an observer status.

Polling stations started closing their doors at 9pm. Ballot boxes are to remain inside the stations until they are transferred late on Tuesday to general polling stations for the vote tally.

El-Sisi expressed his wish for the turnout to exceed 40 million – over 14 million more voters than the 2012 presidential election.

Sabahi defied widespread expectations that El-Sisi will win easily, saying in his final electoral convention on Friday that the vote is far from settled.

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