Egypt’s presidential election was extended by a day on Tuesday in an effort to boost lower than expected turnout that threatened to undermine the credibility of the front-runner, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
After Sisi called for record voter participation, low turnout would be seen at home and abroad as an immediate setback for the field marshal who toppled Egypt’s first freely elected leader, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi.
The two-day vote was originally due to conclude on Tuesday at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) but was extended until Wednesday, state media quoted an official in the body overseeing the election as saying. The extension would allow the “greatest number possible” to vote, including Egyptians who need to return home to vote.
The Muslim Brotherhood movement is boycotting the vote, as are revolutionary youth groups including the leftist April 6 youth movement, which spearheaded the anti-Mubarak revolt and whose leader and several members have been jailed.
Sisi faces only one challenger in the election: the leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in a 2012 vote won by Mursi and was seen as a long-shot in the race against an army man who ended Mursi’s divisive year in office.
“I was going to vote for Sisi because he will be the president anyway, and because I was grateful to him for removing the Brotherhood from power,” said Hani Ali, 27, who works in the private sector.
“But now I won’t go as I felt people are unhappy with the chaos of the past months and are not as pro-Sisi as I thought.”
Lines outside polling stations in various parts of Cairo were short, and in some cases no voters could be seen on Tuesday, the second day of voting. The polls close at 10 p.m. (1900 GMT), an hour later than planned.
It is the second time Egyptians are electing a president in two years, and it is the seventh vote or referendum since 2011.
The military-backed government had launched a determined effort to get out the vote.
The justice ministry said Egyptians who did not vote would be fined, and train fares were waived in an effort to boost the numbers. Local media loyal to the government chided the public for not turning out in large enough numbers.
One prominent TV commentator, a government loyalist from the Mubarak days, said people who did not vote were “traitors, traitors, traitors.”
Al-Azhar, a state-run body that is Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, said failure to vote was “to disobey the nation,” state TV reported. Pope Tawadros, head of Egypt’s Coptic church, also appeared on state TV to urge voters to head to the polls.