Egypt Attempts to Boost Election Turnout With a Half-Day Off

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
October 19, 2015 Updated: October 19, 2015

CAIRO—Egyptian authorities granted government workers a half-day off on Monday in an attempt to bolster low turnout in the country’s election for the first legislature since a chamber dominated by Islamists was dissolved by a court ruling in 2012. There were no signs, however, of larger numbers at polling centers.

Monday is the second day of voting in 14 provinces, including Cairo’s twin city of Giza and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. Voting in Egypt’s other 13 provinces, including the capital Cairo, will take place next month.

Final results are scheduled to be announced in December and the 596-seat chamber is expected to hold its inaugural session later in the month.

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said turnout in Sunday’s voting was between 15 and 16 percent, according to the official Middle East News Agency. There was no independent confirmation of the figures, which appeared to be much higher than available evidence, including extensive coverage by TV news networks, would suggest. State media has acknowledged that turnout was generally weak on Sunday.

Associated Press reporters who toured polling centers at several districts of Giza on Sunday said there were no long voters’ lines such as there were in multiple elections held since in the 2011 ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Women and elderly people dominated those who cast their ballots, they said.

The decision to give government workers a half-day off on Monday reflected deep concern over the turnout, which analysts and observers have said may not exceed 10 percent. The state-owned Al-Ahram daily said the government urged private businesses to ensure employees are able to get off work and vote.

The low turnout continued on Monday morning. Private broadcaster CBC aired simultaneous live footage from 16 polling centers from various parts of the country that were mostly empty. The channel played advertisements between segments appealing to Egyptians to go out and vote.

In the coastal province of Alexandria, riding on public transport will be free from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to encourage a bigger turnout, according to a statement from Governor Hany el-Messiry’s office.

In the Giza district of Dokki, there were no lines and only a slow trickle of voters by late Monday morning at one polling center.

“We were expecting more than this. This is our country, and we have to stand by it,” said retiree Fatima Salam. “Unfortunately the youth aren’t coming out. Us, old people, are.”

The next parliament is widely expected to support, rather than challenge, the policies of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi who is struggling to revive the economy, crush an Islamist insurgency and play an assertive political and military role in a turbulent Middle East. Such a chamber would harken back to the Mubarak-era, when election after election during his 29-year rule were rigged or manipulated to give his National Democratic Party an overwhelming majority in what amounted to rubberstamp legislatures.

Government workers Ahmed Gamal and Ibrahim Yaseen, speaking outside a polling center at Giza’s Pyramids Street, said they were simply voting because they had received time off work.

“People have never elected anyone that did anything for them,” said Yaseen. “The question should not be ‘why are they not voting?’ It should be ‘why should they vote?'”

Ibrahim Eissa, a prominent columnist who supported the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi by el-Sissi, then military chief, lamented in an article Monday that little has changed in Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster by the January 2011 uprising, arguing that the “absence of politics” in the public sphere has left el-Sissi in sole charge of just about everything in the country.

The low turnout, he argued, underlined the political apathy among Egyptians.

“We are back to the old, pre-January (2011) scene, when people saw no point in elections, parliament or democracy,” he wrote on the front page of the daily Al-Maqal. “This will take us to where it took the old (Mubarak) regime. Anyone who cannot see that is, without an iota of hesitation, blind.”