With nearly all the ballots counted, Egypt’s former military chief has won a crushing victory over his sole opponent with more than 92 percent of the votes, according to results announced by his campaign early on Thursday.
The campaign of retired field marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he won 23.38 million votes, with left-wing politician Hamdeen Sabahi taking 735,285.
Invalid votes were 1.07 million, or nearly 350,000 more than the number of votes for the 59-year-old Sabahi.
El-Sissi’s win was never in doubt, but the career infantry officer, also 59, had hoped for a strong turnout to bestow legitimacy on his ouster last July of Egypt’s first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.
However, el-Sissi’s campaign said turnout nationwide was around 44 percent, even after voting was extended for a third day on Wednesday — well below the nearly 52 percent won by Morsi in June 2012.
In his final campaign TV interview last week, el-Sissi set the bar even higher, saying he wanted more than 40 million voters — there are nearly 54 million registered voters — to cast ballots to “show the world” the extent of his popular backing.
El-Sissi supporters held all-night celebrations in Cairo, with several thousands gathered at the central Tahrir square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
They waved Egyptian flags, el-Sissi posters and danced.
There were similar celebrations in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and a string of other cities north of the capital and in the Oasis province of Fayoum southwest of Cairo.
Critics said the lack of enthusiasm at the polls was in part due to apathy among even el-Sissi supporters, knowing that his victory was a foregone conclusion.
Others said it showed discontent with el-Sissi, not just among his Islamist foes but also among a broader section of the public that believes he has no concrete plans for Egypt’s woes and fears he will return Egypt to the autocratic ways of Hosni Mubarak.
The tepid turnout was particularly embarrassing because the government and media had been whipping up adulation for el-Sissi over the past 10 months, depicting him as a warrior against terrorism and the only person able to tackle Egypt’s economic problems, high unemployment, inflation and instability.
El-Sissi’s supporters in the Egyptian media have been in a panic the past two days. Political talk show hosts and newscasters urged people to vote, warning that otherwise the Brotherhood will be encouraged to step up its challenge to the new government.
Prominent TV talk show host Amr Adeeb angrily said that by not voting, Egyptians might as well “go directly to the prison and return Mohammed Morsi to power.”
“Tell him, ‘Your excellency, President Mohammed Morsi, please come out and rule us,'” he said.
The abrupt decision by the election commission to add another day of voting on Wednesday raised complaints that authorities were tipping the playing field continued…