Egypt votes on final day, with all eyes on turnout

A voter's finger is marked with ink at a polling station during the second day of the presidential election in Cairo, Egypt, March 27, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 28 March 2018
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Egypt votes on final day, with all eyes on turnout

CAIRO: Egyptian voters said they had received payments, food and other incentives to go to the polls as authorities sought on Wednesday to achieve the high turnout President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi wants to legitimize his all but guaranteed victory.
As voting went into the third and final day, turnout was seen as the critical factor in an election where any contest was eliminated through the arrest or intimidation of the former military commander’s most serious challengers.
El-Sisi said he wanted more opponents to stand, but instead faced just one who has been dismissed as a dummy candidate.
The election commission has said the vote is free and fair.
El-Sisi, who led the military overthrow of freely-elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in 2013, has promised security and stability and to revive the economy after unrest that followed a 2011 popular uprising.
El-Sisi’s key allies include the United States and the powerful Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In the first two days of voting, turnout was estimated at well below the 47 percent of the electorate who backed El-Sisi for the first time in 2014. By Wednesday, authorities appeared desperate to garner a higher percentage.
Incentives
Voters interviewed by Reuters in the first two days of polling said they had been offered money, boxes of basic food and services to cast their ballots, or to at least ink their fingers to make it look as if they had.
“I’ve never voted before, and I didn’t intend to this time either,” a woman in Cairo’s working-class Ward estate said.
“I just went and dipped my finger in the paint and took the 50 pounds ($3),” she said. The woman declined to give her name for fear of reprisals by authorities.
Other women, who also declined to be named, said they had been promised bags of food containing rice and vegetable oil in exchange for votes.
“They told me that if I voted and showed them (the ink on) my finger I will get a bag,” said one, who also declined to be named.
The women did not say who exactly had given them money or bags of goods.
Managers at a government financial institution gave employees half of Monday off and ordered them to vote, one employee told Reuters. Employees were told to “not come back without ink on their fingers” and had their hands inspected the next day, the employee said.
Asked for comment, the presidency spokesman said this was not a matter for the presidency to address and referred Reuters to the National Election Commission and spokespeople for the presidential campaigns. Officials at the election commission and the government’s foreign press center did not immediately respond to calls and Whatsapp messages requesting comment.
Some people needed no inducement to vote. Noha Al-Nemr, voting in Cairo’s middle-class Mohandiseen district, said: “I voted for El-Sisi of course, because it’s enough that because of him, my family and I live in safety — even if there’s hardship.”
Incentives for voting were made more public in other areas.
In Beheira province, governor Nadia Abdou told Mehwar private TV channel on Monday: “Whichever municipality has the most votes, we will fix their water, sewage and electricity ... We will reward those people who came out in large numbers.”
Pro-government media, meanwhile, portrayed failure to vote as a betrayal of Egypt, the most populous Arab country.
“Betraying the martyrs“
Hosts of state-run radio programs told listeners that if they did not vote, they would be “betraying the blood of the martyrs in Sinai,” a reference to a military campaign against Islamist militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
An elderly woman in the Mohandiseen neighborhood of Cairo said she decided to vote after listening to the radio shows.
The vote virtually guarantees El-Sisi a win. His only opponent is an obscure politician loyal to the incumbent. More serious challengers were forced to step down and several opposition politicians called earlier this year for an election boycott.
El-Sisi has said he had nothing to do with opposition candidates pulling out, and has repeatedly urged the electorate to vote in great numbers.
Two sources monitoring the election, including one from the National Election Commission, said about 13.5 percent of 59 million eligible voters had cast ballots on Monday.


Libya warlord casts shadow over Italy’s bid to solve crisis

Updated 26 min 10 sec ago
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Libya warlord casts shadow over Italy’s bid to solve crisis

  • Haftar arrived in Palermo from his Benghazi stronghold on Monday evening after days of doubts over his crucial presence, but did not attend a working dinner with other leaders
  • Analysts say the Sicily summit risks being compromised not only by tensions between Libyan factions but also the competing agendas of foreign powers

PALERMO: Italy hosts Libyan and global leaders on Tuesday to try to kick-start a long-stalled political process and trigger elections, with eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar casting a shadow over the fresh bid to bring stability to the chaos-stricken nation.
Italy is the latest country aiming to bring Libya’s disparate and often warring factions together after a Paris summit in May saw the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and Haftar agree to hold national polls on December 10 — a date which has fallen by the wayside.
Acknowledging the chaotic political situation since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was deposed in 2011, the United Nations last week conceded elections will not be viable before at least the spring of 2019.
Haftar arrived in Palermo from his Benghazi stronghold on Monday evening after days of doubts over his crucial presence, but did not attend a working dinner with other leaders.
“The path to Libyan stability is complex and does not include shortcuts or miraculous solutions,” Conte told the dinner, according to Italian media.
Conte did not confirm reports that he would hold bilateral talks on Monday evening, and it was not certain that Haftar would join roundtable talks set for Tuesday morning.
Analysts say the Sicily summit risks being compromised not only by tensions between Libyan factions but also the competing agendas of foreign powers.
Just as in May, the key Libyan invitees are Haftar, the eastern parliament’s speaker Aguila Salah, GNA head Fayez Al-Sarraj and Khaled Al-Mechri, speaker of a Tripoli-based upper chamber.
The GNA says it will use the Palermo talks to lobby for security reforms that unify the army, a constitutionally rooted electoral process, economic reform and an end to “parallel institutions.”

The US, Arab countries and European nations have all sent representatives to the talks, including Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
For Rome’s populist government, a top priority is stemming the flow of migrants who exploit Libya’s security vacuum in their quest to reach European shores, often via Italy.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame told the Security Council on Thursday that a national conference in early 2019 would be organized to provide “a platform” for Libyans to spell out their vision for the future.
But diplomatic wrangling between Italy and France hangs over this summit.
In September, Italy’s defense minister and parliamentary speaker both partly blamed France for Libya’s security crisis, which continues to simmer some seven years after the NATO-backed uprising toppled Qaddafi.
The Italian swipes came as Tripoli was plagued by militia clashes that killed at least 117 people and wounded more than 400 between late August and late September.
Salame’s deputy Stephanie Williams on Monday hailed the GNA’s moves to secure Tripoli since then but said more must be done to “generate regular forces ready to assume security responsibilities in the capital.”
Rome and Paris have for months been at loggerheads over Libya’s election timetable. While France repeatedly endorsed the December date, Italy opposed it.
Italy has not been alone in pushing for elections to be delayed. The December 10 date was also viewed skeptically by Washington and Moscow.
One Italian diplomatic source said that no definitive poll date should be set at the summit and it is “not sure that there will be a final document” after the talks.
According to diplomats and analysts, Russia, France, Egypt and the UAE support Haftar, while Turkey and Qatar have thrown their weight behind rivals to the eastern strongman, especially Islamist groups.