CAIRO – 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 today.
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 59-year-old career infantry officer 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 Wednesday – well below the nearly 52 percent won by Morsi.
In his final campaign TV interview last week, el-Sissi set the bar even higher, saying he wanted more than 40 million voters to cast ballots – a turnout of more than 80 percent – to “show the world” the extent of his popular backing.
El-Sissi supporters began celebrating in Cairo, with thousands gathered at the central Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. There were smaller crowds in two other Cairo districts and in a string of towns across much of the country.
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 shows 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.