Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is on course for a landslide election victory although there was little sign he had achieved the high turnout he sought, according to early estimates after polls closed in a three-day election.
Some voters said they had received payments and other inducements to cast their ballots.
But with some private television stations reporting that he could achieve a vote share of 95 percent or more, Sisi issued a defiant statement expressing pride at the way Egyptians had conducted themselves during the election.
The scenes of Egyptians at polling stations will remain a point of pride and honour for me and undoubted proof of the greatness of our nation that has offered the blood of its greatest sons so that we can together cross into the future.
“The voice of the Egyptian masses will undoubtedly bear witness to the fact that our nation’s will imposes itself with a force that knows no weakness,” Sisi said on Twitter.
“The scenes of Egyptians at polling stations will remain a point of pride and honour for me and undoubted proof of the greatness of our nation that has offered the blood of its greatest sons so that we can together cross into the future.”
Hours before polls closed, the electoral commission issued a last-minute call for people to vote, hoping to boost the turnout figure that Sisi regards as vital to legitimising his victory.
Lasheen Ibrahim, head of the national election commission, told Egyptians: “Declare to the world that Egypt always makes history, for you are the Pharaohs, the makers of the civilization that amazed the world.”
Voting was extended by one hour, the state news agency MENA reported.
Sisi is running almost unchallenged after the other serious candidates were either arrested or intimidated, making turnout the main measure of his popularity with Egyptians who are widely expected to award him a second four-year term.
His only challenger is Moussa Mostafa Moussa, a Sisi supporter widely seen as a dummy candidate.
In an interview with a local channel, CBC Extra after vote counting had started, Moussa literally conceded defeat when he said ‘the initial indicators of presidential polls showed my defeat’.
While the National Elections Authority (NEA) is yet to give an official figure, local news portal Egypt Today said the polls scored a considerably high turnout of 40 percent as about 24 million people casted their votes nationwide over the last three days.
The figure was based on preliminary results from the different governorates.
At the last election in 2014, turnout was 47 percent, although Sisi won 97 percent of the overall vote. Official results are due on April 2.
Sisi said he wanted more opponents to stand, and insisted he had nothing to do with opposition candidates pulling out. The election commission had pledged the vote would be free and fair.
In Cairo, some voters found it hard to voice enthusiasm.
Mostafa Abdel Kader, a 35-year-old delivery man, expressed anger at some Sisi loyalists distributing food to persuade people to cast their ballots, saying he would not vote “for a box of food”.
Hussain al-Sayed, a 53-year-old tailor, did vote, although without much enthusiasm. “Sisi will win anyway, there is no one else.”
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.
Polling stations nationwide started sorting and counting ballots late Wednesday with Sisi taking an early commanding lead in the race.
Local media called it a landslide victory for Sisi in in polling stations across Egypt, excluding several stations in Cairo and Giza.
The preliminary results of the first round of the election was scheduled for Thursday March 29, where decisions on appeals submitted by candidates, if any, will be made.
The final results of the first round will be announced on April 2.