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Is low voter turnout in Egypt enough to legitimize al-Sisi’s takeover?

May 28, 2014 at 6:31 PM EST
The head of Egypt’s military-led government, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is on course for a large presidential victory, according to preliminary election results. But despite the addition of a third polling day, many Egyptians never showed up to the polls. Borzou Daragahi of the Financial Times joins Hari Sreenivasan from Cairo to discuss the turnout and its implications for al-Sisi.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The head of Egypt’s military-led government, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is on a course for a landslide presidential victory. That is according to preliminary election results.

However, despite the government’s extraordinary means to improve the leader’s vote count, many Egyptians stayed away from the polls.

Hari Sreenivasan has more on this story.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me now to talk about the voting in Egypt is Borzou Daragahi of The Financial Times.

So, Borzou, there is little doubt on who is going to win this Egyptian election, but let’s talk a little bit about the turnout. It seems it was surprisingly low.

BORZOU DARAGAHI, The Financial Times: It was reported to be low.

Right now, authorities are saying that they are considering it about a 44 percent turnout, which is not as much as the election that pitted the former president, Mohammed Morsi, against Ahmed Shafiq in 2012, but what they consider rather respectable at this point.

But they had huge troubles trying to get people out to the polls and even went through the labor of adding a voting day to the two that were already in place. They canceled the stock market yesterday, and they closed all government ministries and urged the private sector to release workers to let them go home and vote.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So even with all that, you are talking about 44 percent. Is the percentage of turnout important to have what’s perceived as a mandate or to legitimize the takeover, which some people in Egypt consider a military coup?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I think it’s important to some extent for domestic consumption.

I think to them, to the authorities here now, it’s much more important internationally to be able to point to a large turnout to say that, look, yes, maybe there are some people who oppose us within Egypt, but there is a plurality, perhaps who are in favor of Sisi, enthusiastic about Sisi, so come here and do business with us.

I think that is really the aim at this focus on the turnout.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there any sort of an international monitoring system in place for these elections?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: There is.

The E.U. has sent 150 and — 150 or so monitors deployed throughout the country. A USAID-funded organization called Democracy International also has a team here. I think Transparency International is keeping on — an eye on the vote. That’s a Berlin-based organization.

There are also a number of local organizations. Now, it was interesting today. Democracy International issued a statement calling the extension of the vote by one more day highly irregular. And it said it further damaged the credibility of the electoral process here. And it declined to deploy monitors during this third day, because it was — it considered the extension of the vote at the last minute such an egregious offense.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how do most Egyptians view al-Sisi these days?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: I think there is a large number of people in this country, there is a large number of people who support Sisi, are stridently in favor of what he represents, and are just so tired of the tumult of the last few years.

And they’re eager to have a strong man, a military man come back and restore some semblance of order here, put the economy back on track. But I will say that it seems like the peak of Sisi mania was a couple of months ago, and ever since he started speaking on the media, as his program came out, or lack thereof, as his sort of speaking style, his sort of hectoring, pushy style came out , a lot of people were turned off by that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Borzou Daragahi of The Financial Times joining us from Egypt, thanks so much.

BORZOU DARAGAHI: It’s been a pleasure.