Egypt moves to boost voter turnout

CAIRO — Authorities in Egypt appeared to move to try to boost voter turnout on the second and final day of a presidential election that is all but certain to result in victory for ex-military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

As the first day of the voting ground to a halt on Monday, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab declared Tuesday an official holiday. And trading at the Egyptian stock exchange has been suspended to allow staffers and investors to vote. Banks are closed and polls are set to remain open an hour later than usual, the state news agency MENA reported.

The last-minute measures to get more people to the polls may indicate authorities’ concerns over turnout. Election monitoring groups said the turnout on the first day of the vote was moderate and often thin or non-existent in towns and areas where Islamists dominate.

“A high voter turnout would give Sisi the sense of legitimacy he needs to justify his policies, especially controversial ones related to security, which will be used to continue the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, Lebanon.

A Brotherhood-led alliance against the power shift is boycotting this week’s vote, and a low turnout at the polls could also raise questions about the validity of the outcome. Prime Minister Mahlab, however, said Tuesday was made a holiday in response to public demand to give government workers the opportunity to vote.

Al-Sisi, who has been backed by state media and institutions ahead of the vote, is widely expected to win the election against leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi.

“He (al-Sisi) is the man for this period,” said Hussein Khairallah, 74, who voted with his wife at a polling station downtown Monday. “You need a man like Sisi — a strongman, a direct man, an honest man. This is what Egypt needs.”

The former defense minister-turned-presidential frontrunner ousted Brotherhood figure Mohamed Morsi from power last year in what al-Sisi’s supporters claimed was a revolution and his opponents condemned as a coup.

Official, final election results are expected on June 5, at which point the current cabinet is expected to resign.

On Tuesday, military choppers buzzed over central Cairo as security for the vote remained high. Police presence was heavy at polling stations, where armed soldiers stood guard behind piled sandbags.

Some protests erupted in areas across the country on Monday, but the the vote has mostly continued without disruption despite fears of militant violence, which escalated after Morsi’s ouster.