CAIRO — Egypt’s presidential election has entered its third day as authorities extended the voting in a scramble to bolster an unexpectedly low turnout.
But even as polls opened on Wednesday, few voters were seen heading to cast ballots — suggesting that voting is thin or non-existent.
The turnout matters to the front-runner, former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is expected to win in a landslide.
Sissi is looking for a huge turnout as evidence of legitimacy for his ouster last July of the nation’s first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.
Electoral commission chief Abdel Aziz Salman put the turnout by the end of the second day at about 37 percent of the 53 million electorate, the official MENA news agency reported.
That is well below the almost 52 percent who voted in the 2012 election won by Morsi.
As polling closed on Tuesday, Sissi’s sole rival, the leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi, slammed the ballot extension, saying it raised “questions… about the integrity of the process.”
The extension into Wednesday was made to “give a chance to the largest possible number of voters to cast their ballots,” said an electoral official.
The organizers of the vote said they extended the election because of a “heatwave that resulted in a crowding of voters during the evening hours.”
Sissi’s campaign also filed a complaint against the extension, saying they had hoped organizers would extend voting into the night, so voters could escape the heatwave, rather than extend voting another day.
Opponents say the turnout debacle shows deep discontent with el-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.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, subjected to a police crackdown that has killed hundreds of its supporters, called for boycott and said it would not recognize the outcome.
So too have key activists behind the 2011 uprising that ousted long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011. They fear Sissi is an autocrat in the making.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, has been rocked by turmoil since the 2011 uprising which has ravaged its economy.
Sissi’s ouster of Morsi on July 3 triggered the worst peacetime bloodshed in Egypt’s recent history, but the ex-army chief has vowed to stamp out the violence.