October 19, 2015 / 12:11 PM / 2 years ago

Egypt in second day of 'election without voters'

CAIRO (Reuters) - As the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections came to a close on Monday night, turnout appeared weak for the second consecutive day, highlighting growing disillusionment since the army seized power in 2013.

Employees count ballots after polls closed in the first phase of parliamentary elections at a voting center in Dokki, Giza governorate, Egypt, October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said turnout on Sunday had been just 15-16 percent, but that it should rise after public sector workers were given a half-day off to vote.

Estimates by judges overseeing the ballot suggested the turnout had risen to 20 percent or more by Monday afternoon in the 14 regions covered by the first round, including the second city, Alexandria.

The lack of interest, particularly from the young people who comprise the majority of Egypt’s population, contrasted with the long queues and youthful enthusiasm of the 2011-12 polls that followed the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

“I‘m not going to give my vote to someone who doesn’t deserve it,” said Michael Bassili, 19, from Alexandria.

“As young people, we’re trying to fix the country and we’ll work to do this ... but these guys are just interested in money and themselves.”

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had personally urged Egyptians to use their vote, and the low turnout suggested the former general, who once enjoyed cult-like adulation, was losing some of his appeal.

Sisi has described the election as a milestone on the road to democracy in Egypt, the most populous Arab country.

But with most of his opponents in jail, he is not expected to face any serious challenges from parliament, and the low turnout will reinforce the view that the assembly will lack credibility.

In 2013, then-army chief Sisi overthrew Egypt’s first freely-elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, and promised a “road map to democracy”.

He then launched the fiercest crackdown on dissent in Egypt’s modern history, jailing thousands of Mursi’s supporters as well as activists who had been at the forefront of the 2011 revolt that ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule and ignited hopes of change.

Last year’s presidential election was extended for a third day in order to boost turnout, with pro-government media urging Egyptians to show up. Sisi won 97 percent of votes.

This time, even Egypt’s largely loyalist press focused on the lack of interest in the polls. Analysts say Sisi may try to spin the apathy to his favor by arguing that Egyptians place more faith in the presidency.

“An election without voters,” said a front-page headline in the business daily Al-Mal. “Elections without queues,” read a headline in Al Shorouk.

In Alexandria, the governor ordered that public transport be offered from 1 p.m. until the polls close at 9 p.m. to encourage people to vote.

DISSOLVED

Egypt has had no parliament since June 2012 when a court dissolved the democratically-elected main chamber, then dominated by the Brotherhood.

Repeatedly postponed, Egypt’s elections are taking place over two rounds, on Oct. 18-19 and Nov. 22-23.

Critics say an electoral system that puts the emphasis on individuals is a throwback to Mubarak-era politics, which favored candidates with wealth and connections.

Of the 568 elected seats overall, 120 will be contested by closed winner-takes-all lists. Even these are expected to be dominated by loyalists.

Outlawed and branded a terrorist group, the Brotherhood, which won almost half the seats in the last election, is boycotting the poll, as is much of the secular and liberal opposition.

An alliance of socialist opposition parties earlier planned to contest seats but eventually pulled out.

“There is obvious refusal to participate, which is proof that the people know what is going on right now is a farce designed to make the current regime look democratic,” said Mohamed Soudan, an exiled Brotherhood official.

“For the Love of Egypt,” an alliance of loyalist parties and politicians, is contesting all list seats and is expected to dominate.

The Islamist Nour Party, which came second in the last election, is not expected to scoop up Islamist votes that would have gone to the Brotherhood because it endorsed Mursi’s overthrow.

Even some who voted for Sisi last year are not planning to cast a ballot this time.

“There is security since Sisi took power and that’s good but its not just about security. A lot of things need to change, the economy, tourism, the high prices in the country,” said Ahmed, a 35-year-old father of three.

Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy, Eric Knecht, Ahmed Aboulenein and Michael Georgy; Editing by Andrew Roche

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