Egypt presidential elections: The final sprint

Mariam Rizk and Lina El-Wardani , Wednesday 28 May 2014

An Egyptian woman casts her ballot on the first day of voting in the presidential elections inside a polling station in Cairo May 26, 2014.(Photo:Reuters)

The Presidential Elections Commission (PEC), Egyptian authorities and wide sections of the media have launched a final campaign to boost turnout in the country's presidential election.

The vote is a straight choice between ex-army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi. Despite months of nationalistic fervour  turnout seems lower than expected.

Attempts to boost the vote

Initially scheduled to take place on 26-27 May, the Presidential Elections Commission has extended voting for a third day, despite objections from both campaigns.

It had already given all state workers the day off on Tuesday to encourage people to vote.

In many cities, vehicles with speakers roamed around the streets urging people to cast their ballots.

In one video, widely circulated on social media sites, a vehicle with loud speakers roared “Mummy's boys who are lazy and staying in their air conditioned homes, go vote! The air conditioning is not going anywhere, but Egypt will be lost, wake up!”

As with every election after the 25 January Revolution, PEC member Tarek Shebl reminded registered voters that a LE500 ($70) fine would be imposed on people who fail to vote without a valid excuse. He did not elaborate on what a valid excuse would be.

Some television anchors seemed frustrated, others tried to justify a lower-than-expected turnout and pleaded for people to vote.

“I know the weather is very hot, but please vote,” pleaded CBC host Lamis El-Hadidi.

“Please remember the churches that were burnt, the terrorism, the humiliation you have seen over the past year,” El-Hadidi added. “We want to show the world that there is a voting majority.”

Another television host, Ahmed Moussa, denied there was a low turnout. He said the media was not covering all polling stations around the country.

“We do not want to deliver a faulty image,” he said.

Public transport has been free in Cairo since Monday in a move designed to boost turnout.

Major Cairo shopping malls, including City Stars, Mall of Arabia, and the American Plaza closed their doors Tuesday at 4pm, nearly eight hours early, to encourage employees to vote.

Judging by numbers

PEC secretary-general Abdel-Aziz Salman told CBC that unofficial estimates put the turnout at 37 percent (around 20 million votes). 

Nearly 52 percent participated in the runoff for the 2012 election, with around 13 million people voting for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi.

While the constitutional referendum in January 2014 passed with almost 39 percent turnout.

Some observers have said the greater number of polling stations has made queues appear shorter than in previous votes.

There are however around 14,000 polling stations in this election, up with about 800 more than in the 2012 presidential poll.

Voters who wish to vote away from their home addresses should have notified the election committee beforehand, or else they have to vote at their original polling station.

There are no exceptions to this rule, which some observers have claimed is contributing to the low turnout.

Others have said the hot weather has caused voters to stay at home.

Many have compared the turnout with the huge number of people who protested against Morsi last summer, and who responded to El-Sisi's call for protesters to give him a mandate to fight terrorism.

In statements before election day El-Sisi said he was hopeful that more than 40 million people would vote.

Jabbing at the decision

“The state is looking for a vote,” said a headline in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. Al-Shorouk said “Intensive efforts to urge people to vote at the last minute.” While  Al-Ahram said “Heavy turnout and celebratory moods.”

ONTV presenter Ibrahim Eissa criticised the decision to extend voting as a “failed and short sighted decision.”

“The judges [on the PEC] understand nothing about elections or politics.”

He added that the decision gives the West an easy way to criticise the election. “You are putting our necks under their sharpened knives.”

Social media figures mocked the decision and “nagging” by the authorities.

The hashtag Mefakhadeeen, which means “sluggers,” was trending on Facebook and Twitter. One Twitter user called it “The food for votes strategy.” Another said “The PEC should set a limit of voters they want to reach after which they will close the polling stations.” Writer and blogger Amr Ezzat said on Facebook that “Lazy people don’t make fascism.”

Singer Amr Moustafa, a backer of Mubarak and now El-Sisi, said on Facebook: “Those who will not vote should not be able to vote or run in the next two rounds of presidential or parliamentary elections.”

His post has close to 4,000 likes and over 1,000 comments. 

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