Egypt struggles to boost crucial vote turnout

Egyptian media castigate public for not voting in crowds

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Egypt’s election supervising body took a series of successive measures to boost voter turnout seen as crucial to casting legitimacy on the political process that followed the ouster of former President Mohammad Mursi last year.

Election officials first extended the voting for an extra hour on Tuesday, which was also declared a public holiday for state and private employees.

Just hours before the polls closed on the second day, a controversial decree then extended the vote for a third day.

Officials said the extension was due to a “heat wave” and was putting off voters from heading to balloting stations.

Analysts, however, explained the move differently.

“The declaration of the second day of the vote as a national holiday enabled some voters to travel to distant communities where they are registered,” Osama Saraya, former editor-in-chief of the state-run Al-Ahram daily, told Al Arabiya News.

“The extra day aimed at making up for the mistake by [the commission],” he added.

Nabil Sharaf al-Din, a political analyst, said the government considers a high voter turnout as necessary to cast legitimacy on the political roadmap unveiled by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after the ouster of former President Mohammad Mursi on July 3, 2013.

“The government is trying by all means to demonstrate that July 3rd was a popular uprising and not a [military] coup like some foreign media outlets have claimed,” Nabil Sharaf al-Din, a political analyst, told Al Arabiya News. A high turnout, he added, would prove that this was the case.

The move to extend the election was preceded by harsher measures from the Presidential Elections Commission also aimed at boosting voter turnout.

On Monday the commission announced it would levy a fine as high as $72 (500 Egyptian pounds) on registered voters who failed to cast their ballot.

“A fine of up to 500 Egyptian pounds will be applied on registered voters who fail to vote without a valid excuse,” Tarek Shebl, a member of the commission, said during an interview with the privately-owned television channel CBC Monday. He did not elaborate on what would count as a valid excuse.

Egyptian expats

During the electoral process abroad, Egyptian expatriates were allowed for the first time to cast their votes with no prior registration.

Elections that took place after the Jan. 25 revolution had only given pre-registered expatriates the right to cast their votes.

According to Egypt’s foreign ministry, more than 300,000 expats voted in this presidential election.

Media reaction

Meanwhile, Egypt’s mainstream media urged Egyptians to go to the polls and castigated the public for not turning out in large numbers.

"What shall I do to make you turn out? Shall I kiss your foot? What do you want me to do? Take off my clothes and go on air naked in order for you to trust me [that voting is important]?" popular TV show host Tawfik Okasha, yelled in one of his shows.

"I will ask [the government] to cut electricity," Okasha added, "in order to stop the air conditioners, forcing you to get out of your homes and take to the streets [to vote]," he said during his show, Masr al Youm, broadcasted on the Cairo-based Al Fara'een television channel.

Lamis al-Hadidi, another television presenter, stressed that Egyptians needed to go to the polls to show that electing Sisi “is the will of the people.”

“I know the weather is very hot, but please vote,” requested Hadidi.

“Please remember the churches that were burned, the terrorism, the humiliation you have seen over the past year,” El-Hadidi added. “We want to show the world that there is a voting majority.”

Saraya, commenting on Hadidi’s reaction, said: “What she did was absolutely unnecessary.”

“She showed a lack of professionalism and conveyed a negative image of Egypt and Egyptians.”

Mostafa al-Bakri, another television presenter, said Egyptians failing to vote would be seen as “traitors, traitors, traitors.”

In a similar development, Al-Azhar, a state-run body that is Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, said a failure to vote was “to disobey the nation,” according to Reuters news agency, while Pope Tawadros, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, also appeared on state television urging voters to head to the polls.