Egypt pushes for higher turnout in final round of parliamentary vote

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Cairo (dpa) – The Egyptian government said Sunday it would give public employees half a day off to boost low voter turnout during the second and final round of parliamentary elections expected to be led by loyalists of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi.

Monday, the final day of voting, would be a reduced workday for government employees, state television reported.

Prime Minister Sherif Ismail called on private sector employers to offer facilities to their workers to help them “exercise their constitutional right to vote,” according to the broadcaster.

State and pro-government TV stations said that voting gained momentum during the second half of Sunday, reversing sluggish voting in the early hours when some polls were all but empty.

The non-governmental monitoring group, Maat, said there had been an increase in voter turnout starting at midday in several of the 13 provinces where the election is being held. The group did not provide specific figures.

The first round of voting in Egypt’s parliamentary elections was staged last month in 14 of Egypt’s 27 provinces. Official figures for the first round showed participation at 26.5 per cent of registered voters.

Al-Sissi, the former army chief, cast his ballot soon after polls opened at 9 am (0700 GMT). It was his first time voting in parliamentary elections, as military personnel are barred from voting.

Turnout was slack in the district of Sayyida Zeinab, south of central Cairo. A polling station supervisor said he had “hardly seen five voters” in the first 75 minutes of voting.

These are the first parliamentary elections since al-Sissi, as head of the army, ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013 following mass demonstrations against hs rule.

The first phase saw supporters of al-Sissi in the electoral alliance For Love of Egypt make a clean sweep of the 60 seats elected by a list system.

The centre-right Free Egyptians Party, founded by Christian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, is the best-placed political party.

The party, which supports al-Sissi, won 36 of the 226 seats contested in local constituencies in the first round. It also took five seats as part of the For Love of Egypt alliance.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which came out on top in the 2011-12 elections following an uprising that toppled dictator Hosny Mubarak, is now banned as a terrorist organization.

The only Islamist party on the ballot, the hardline Salafist Nour Party, won 10 seats in the first stage. In the previous legislature it held a quarter of the seats.

In Sayyida Zeinab, a retired civil servant told dpa that he had voted because he wanted to “play an active role in Egypt’s political roadmap” – a reference to the transition plan announced by al-Sissi when he deposed Morsi.

The elections are the third and final phase in that plan, after a constitutional referendum and last year’s presidential elections, which al-Sissi won with almost 97 per cent of the vote.

“Being passive is not right, not at this stage,” the 65-year-old, who asked not to be named, said.

“I’m voting today for the For the Love of Egypt list because I believe they are the only group backing our president and hence supporting Egyptians,” a 40-year-old woman said.

Despite being accredited by the electoral commission, a dpa correspondent was prevented from entering one polling station at a school in Sayidda Zeinab.

“It is out of my hands … I have nothing to do with it. It’s the army officer’s orders,” a police officer said.

Around 360,000 army and police officers have been deployed around polling stations to secure the elections, according to local media.

Official final results of this round are expected in early December, after any necessary run-offs are completed.

Egypt has been without a parliament since mid-2012, when the country’s top court invalidated the Islamist-led legislature, saying it had been elected on faulty rules.

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