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
0

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.


France urges Iran to free human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Updated 8 min 43 sec ago
0

France urges Iran to free human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

  • Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan said his wife was sentenced to 33 years in prison
  • otoudeh has also been sentenced to a total of 148 lashes for appearing in court without the hijab

PARIS: France on Thursday called for Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh to be released and warned Tehran that its adherence to a nuclear accord does not give it a blank cheque on human rights.
“We will do all we can to secure the release of Mrs.Sotoudeh,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the upper chamber Senate.
“She was condemned under astonishing conditions,” for “defending the rights of women, in particular those who contest the obligation to wear the Islamic veil,” he added.
Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan told AFP on Sunday that his wife had been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison over a case with seven charges, but she is to only serve the longest sentence, 12 years imposed on Sunday for “encouraging corruption and debauchery.”
She has also been convicted of espionage.
Sotoudeh has also been sentenced to a total of 148 lashes for appearing in court without the hijab head covering and for another offense.
According to Khandan, Sotoudeh has refrained from choosing a lawyer as attorneys on her previous cases have faced prosecution for representing her.
“We have been making considerable efforts in recent months to preserve the (Iranian) nuclear accord, despite America’s withdrawal,” said Le Drian.
“We are doing so because we respect our signature, but Iran must also respect its obligations in particular those international agreements relating to civil and political rights,” he added.
Last month the UN atomic watchdog said that Iran has been adhering to its deal with world powers on limiting its nuclear program, as diplomatic wrangling continues over the future of the accord.
The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran was still complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with global powers under which Tehran drastically scaled back its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
Last week, European nations rejected a call from US Vice President Mike Pence to follow the US lead in withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal.
Le Drian said Thursday: “Our wish to preserve the Vienna accord does not grant carte-blanche to Iran and certainly not in the matter of human rights.”
Before her arrest, Sotoudeh, 55, had taken on the cases of several women arrested for appearing in public without headscarves in protest at the mandatory dress code in force in Iran.
Sotoudeh won the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize in 2012 for her work on high-profile cases, including those of convicts on death row for offenses committed as minors.
She spent three years in prison after representing dissidents arrested during mass protests in 2009 against the disputed re-election of ultra-conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.