An ‘election without voters?’ Egypt in second day of parliamentary vote

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Egyptians appeared to be shunning the ballot box for a second day on Monday in what one newspaper called "an election without voters", highlighting growing disillusionment since the army seized power in 2013 and promised to restore democracy.

Voting got off to a slow start, a day after polling stations visited by Reuters correspondents pointed to a turnout of around 10 percent in sharp contrast to the long lines and enthusiasm in the 2012 election.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said on Monday that turnout on the first day of voting was 15 to 16 percent.

State news agency MENA quoted Ismail as saying turnout was expected to be higher on Monday after the government gave public sector workers half a day off to encourage them to cast their ballots.

Younger Egyptians who make up the majority of the population were virtually absent, with many people dismissing it as a sham or expressing doubt that new lawmakers would change anything.

Coming a day after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Egyptians to cast their ballots, the low turnout suggested the former general, who once enjoyed cult-like adulation, was losing some of his appeal.

In 2013, then-army chief Sisi overthrew Egypt's first freely-elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammad Morsi, and promised a "roadmap 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 at the forefront of the 2011 revolt.

Last year's presidential election was extended for a third day in order to boost turnout, with pro-government media pushing 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 favour by arguing that Egyptians place far 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.

Even the pro-government Al Ahram zeroed in on the absence of young people at the ballot box.

In an apparent attempt to encourage voting, public sector workers will receive a half day holiday on Monday.

"We don't know anything about these candidates so I'm not going to give my vote to someone who doesn't deserve it," Michael Bassili, 19, from Alexandria.

"As youth we're trying to fix the country and we'll work to do this...but these guys are just interested in money and themselves."

Egypt has had no parliament since June 2012 when a court dissolved the democratically elected main chamber, then dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, reversing a key accomplishment of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

Repeatedly postponed, Egypt's elections are now taking place over two rounds on Oct 18-19 and Nov 22-23. This week, voters cast their ballots in 14 regions including Egypt's second city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast.

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

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

"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, will take part. However, it has lost much support among Islamists since endorsing Mursi's overthrow.

An alliance of socialist opposition parties that had been due to contest eventually pulled out.

But 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.

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