Egyptians stay away from ballot boxes despite government pleas

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Polling stations were all but deserted Monday on the second day of Egypt’s long-delayed parliamentary elections, despite attempts by authorities to boost voter turnout.

The government gave its employees a half day off to encourage participation after Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said that only 15 per cent of voters had cast ballots Sunday.

Polls closed on schedule at 9 pm (1900 GMT), and counting of votes began immediately.

Final official results of the first round, which covers half the country, are expected to be announced on October 30 after run-off contests next week.

At the gates of a school in the working-class Imbaba area in northern Cairo, awnings erected to shelter queueing voters from the sun stood unused Monday afternoon.

Inside one of the polling stations in the school building, judge Hossam al-Badawi directed a middle-aged woman to choose any four out of 48 candidates vying for the area’s seats.

Voting had picked up since Sunday, he said. A colleague in a neighbouring schoolroom, when asked how the vote was going, gestured to the empty room and said: “As you can see.”

In the nearby middle-class Agouza district, representatives of candidates sat around drinking tea in the courtyard of the Kawmiya language school, with voters equally thin on the ground.

Local television showed similar scenes from elsewhere in the country.

Later in the evening, judges supervising two of the Kawmiya school’s polling stations said numbers had picked up “a bit” in the final hours of polling.

Over the course of the day, state and private TV stations loyal to the government intensified their calls for potential voters to cast their ballots.

The polls will elect Egypt’s first parliament since the army deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in the wake of mass demonstrations two years ago.

The vote is the last stage in a transition plan announced by then-army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi – who was himself elected president last year – when he ousted Morsi.

Coverage of the balloting was interrupted with patriotic songs urging the voters to “participate in making the future of the country.”

The Election Commission reportedly threatened abstaining voters with fines of 500 Egyptian pounds (60 dollars).

“I’ve only come to vote after I heard about this fine,” Asmaa Ali told state-run newspaper al-Ahram at a polling station in Giza near Cairo.

In Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, public transport fares were to be waived Monday afternoon to encourage potential voters, al-Ahram reported online.

The For Love of Egypt list, widely seen as backed by the authorities, is expected to take most or all of the 120 of 596 seats reserved for party lists.

Some 448 seats are reserved for individual candidates, leading analysts to predict that the parliament will be fractured but loyal to al-Sissi.

Wealthy individuals and members of prominent local families are thought likely to do well. Many candidates are linked to the dissolved National Democratic Party of former dictator Hosny Mubarak.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which came out on top in the last parliamentary elections in 2011 after a popular uprising toppled Mubarak, is now outlawed in Egypt.

The hardline Salafist Nour Party, which backed Morsi’s ouster, is running for 60 of the list seats and has candidates contesting individual seats.

Egypt has been without a parliament since 2012, when the constitutional court dissolved the Islamist-led legislature, saying it had been elected using faulty rules.

That ruling precipitated a constitutional and political crisis that played a key role in Morsi’s downfall, after he sought to rule by decree without judicial review of his decisions.

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