Egypt’s former military chief has won a crushing victory over his only opponent in the country’s presidential election, his campaigners said yesterday, with nearly all ballots counted.
Retired field marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won more than 92 per cent of the votes cast , compared with 2.9 per cent for his sole opponent and 4 per cent of invalid votes, according to a tally released by his campaign team.
But the results were stained by questions about turnout, despite a robust government effort to persuade people to vote. Mr Sisi’s victory was never in doubt, but the career infantry officer had pushed for an overwhelming turnout to bestow legitimacy on his ousting last July of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi.
Turnout was more than 46 per cent after officials extended voting to a third day. That figure was lower than the 52 per cent turnout in the 2012 presidential election that voted Mr Morsi into power. It also was lower than the bar Mr Sisi himself set in his last campaign interview, when he said he wanted three-quarters of the country’s 54 million registered voters to cast ballots so he could “show the world” his support.
However, Mr Sisi can genuinely claim he comes into office with a tally of 23.38 million votes – significantly more than the 13 million won by Mr Morsi two years ago. His sole opponent, left wing politician Hamdeen Sabahi, received 736,000 votes.
It was telling that Mr Sabahi, who came in third in the previous election, garnered less than the 1.03 million spoiled ballots cast. Official election commission figures are likely to be released next week but are not expected to alter the outcome due to the wide gap in results.
Mario David, the head of the European Union observers’ mission, said the election that ended on Wednesday was carried out within the boundaries of the law, with only minor violations such as campaigning near polling centres.
However, Robert Goebbels, senior member of the EU mission said boycott is a form of freedom of expression and no one should speak for the “silent” voters.
“High turnout is not necessarily proof of democratic elections,” he said, adding that turnout in totalitarian states such as North Korea, in which there is only a single candidate, has run as high as 99.9 per cent.
The unusual measures taken by the government to get voters to the polls also raised scepticism over the extent of support.
Widespread reports of empty polling stations in the first two days of voting prompted the state to abruptly add a third day after declaring the second day to be a public holiday to free voters to cast ballots had made little difference. Government officials also offered to bus in voters to polling centres and threatened to invoke a rarely enforced law that would allow them to fine boycotters. Buses and trains were free to allow people to return to their home districts and cast ballots.
Observers the US-based group Democracy International said yesterday: “Citizen enthusiasm was dampened by the widespread perception that this election was not meaningful and that its results were predetermined.”
The group largely ended its observer mission as scheduled after two days, although EU monitors continued.
Interim president Adly Mansour insisted that legitimacy had been achieved. He put turnout at 46 per cent and said it showed “a broad consensus” for the political roadmap transition set by the military after Mr Morsi was ousted. He said the voting was free of any “serious misconduct”.
Islamists, once the country’s most powerful political machine, had called a boycott of the vote, as had many secular “revolutionary” youth groups.
Several thousand of Mr Sisi’s supporters celebrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak. They waved flags, posters of Mr Sisi and danced. Similar celebrations took place in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and other cities north of the capital and to the south-west.