- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

CAIRO (AP) - Egypt extended its presidential election an extra day as the government, military and supporters of front-runner Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi scrambled on Tuesday to increase turnout after two days of reportedly thin voting dented the former army chief’s attempts to garner an overwhelming show of public support.

Scenes of empty polling stations drove el-Sissi supporters in the country’s TV stations into a froth Tuesday, scolding Egyptians for not turning out after months of media adulation of the retired field marshal. The government and media have been depicting him as the country’s savior after his ouster last year of the first freely elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi.

Low turnout would be a heavy symbolic blow to el-Sissi, It would suggest a significant sector of Egyptians - beyond his Islamist opponents - remain skeptical of the 59-year-old el-Sissi. Islamists are boycotting the vote, furious over Morsi’s ouster and a fierce crackdown against them that has killed hundreds. Many secular critics worry that yet another military man as president will mean a return of the autocratic policies of President Hosni Mubarak, toppled in a 2011 popular uprising.

El-Sissi is poised for an almost certain victory. But he and his backers seek a large turnout to send a message to the West - as well as to his domestic opponents - that Morsi’s ouster was not a coup but another popular revolution.

There were no official figures on turnout in the previous day’s voting. On Tuesday, voting appeared even slower than the day before, though a scorching heat wave may have been a factor, with an increase was expected after nightfall.

Hani Abdel-Latif, spokesman of the Interior Ministry, in charge of police, told the Associated Press that security reports estimated that at least 30 percent of the nearly 54 million registered voters cast ballots Monday and the first five hours of voting Tuesday.

But the campaign of El-Sissi’s opponent in the election, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, said its representatives at polling stations estimated turnout Monday at only 10-15 percent.

The election commission presented its decision to extend voting for a third day as in response to demands from voters. “We found that there is a general desire to allow a bigger chance for voting,” Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razeq, a election commission official, told Al-Hayat TV.

He said there were complaints over the heat and from migrant workers, who under the rules have a hard time voting in their place of residents.

But Sabahi’s campaign said the low turnout was a “clear message by the people and youth … rejecting the attempt to bring back old regime policies.”

The worry among officials and el-Sissi’s supporters was clear since polls closed Monday.

In an unusual move, the chief of staff of the military, Mahmoud Hegazy - an in-law of el-Sissi - visited polling stations in the south on Tuesday and urged voters to come out, saying the stakes are high. “We must go down and express our opinion. Go down and choose as you please,” he told reporters.

Many of the numerous TV political talk shows furiously berated people who hadn’t voted.

“By sitting at home, they are wasting what we have accomplished the past year … our war on terrorism,” Hayat el-Dardiri on the pro-military Faraeen TV said. “Where are the people?”

Mostafa Bakri, a former lawmaker and campaigner for el-Sissi, warned that unless big numbers of voters come out, Brotherhood supporters are ready to take advantage and go to the streets to protest

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