With nearly all votes counted, Egypt’s former military chief has won a crushing victory over his sole opponent with more than 92% of the votes, according to results announced by his supporters. The campaign of retired field marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi today 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.
Mr 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 ousting last July of Egypt’s first freely elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi.
However, his campaign said turnout nationwide was around 44%, even after voting was extended for a third day yesterday – well below the nearly 52% turnout in the June 2012 election won by Mr Morsi.
In his final campaign TV interview last week, Mr 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.
His supporters held all-night celebrations in Cairo, with several thousands gathered at the central Tahrir square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran 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 Mr 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 Mr Mubarak.
The tepid turnout was particularly embarrassing because the government and media had been whipping up adulation for Mr 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 and inflation.
His 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 Muslim Brotherhood will be encouraged to step up its challenge to the new government.
The abrupt decision by the election commission to add another day of voting raised complaints that authorities were tipping the playing field in Mr el-Sissi’s favour.
US-based Democracy International, which had been observing the vote, said the extension “raises more questions about the independence of the election commission, the impartiality of the government, and the integrity of Egypt’s electoral process”.
Mr Sabahi, Mr el-Sissi’s only opponent in the race, protested against the extension, saying it aimed to “distort” the will of the people.
His campaign pulled its representatives from polling stations yesterday in protest against what it called a campaign of intimidation and arrests of its campaign workers.
He, however, refused to bow to pressure from his camp to withdraw in protest, arguing that staying in the race qualifies him to “fight future battles”.
Mr Morsi’s Brotherhood supporters and other Islamists boycotted the vote and scattered protests by Morsi supporters were quickly dispersed by security forces.
In Fayoum, south-west of Cairo, riot police fired tear gas after protesters hurled stones while marching and chanting slogans against elections.