Egypt counts votes, with all eyes on turnout for Sisi's victory

CAIRO - Egyptian officials were counting votes on Thursday after an election set to hand President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a second term following a crackdown on dissent that removed serious challengers.

As ballots are tallied for official results due on April 2, the focus will be on final turnout since Sisi faced no credible opposition. Critics say the contest recalled the kind of vote that kept Arab autocrats in power for decades before the 2011 Arab Spring.

The former military commander overthrew Islamist Mohamed Mursi, Egypt's first freely-elected president, during turmoil in 2013 that followed a popular uprising two years earlier.

Sisi was first elected in 2014 with 97 percent of the vote, but with a modest turnout of about 47 percent.

Authorities have been desperate to ensure a higher turnout this time around as Sisi sees attendance at polls as a referendum on his popularity and seeks a strong mandate to fight militants and push through tough economic reforms.

State-run media trumpeted Sisi's victory early on Thursday after the election predicted a "big turnout," and radio programs said that most of the voters were from Egypt's fast-growing youth.

"The people have chosen their president," the front page of state-run daily al-Gomhouria said.

Early indications from sources monitoring the vote, however, suggested turnout could be lower than in the 2014 election.

On the first two days of voting, turnout was about 21 percent, two sources monitoring the election said, and a Western diplomat said that late on Tuesday it was between 15 and 20 percent.

The two sources said late on Wednesday the turnout figure could be less than 40 percent.

Egyptian authorities and media outlets have tried to garner as many votes as possible, telling voters it is their duty, and portraying a failure to vote as betrayal of their country.

Other tactics have also been deployed, with some voters saying they were paid and given other incentives to cast their ballots.

Sisi ran against a sole challenger who openly supports him, after all serious opposition dropped out the race earlier this year citing intimidation and arrests.

Sisi's presidency has returned the military to power after turmoil following the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time leader Hosni Mubarak.
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