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Sunday 25 March 2018

Egyptian opposition coalition calls for boycott of March vote

The group said the handling of the vote by authorities is dictatorial, and branded the poll which means an assured victory for Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as “absurd”.

A supporter holds a poster showing President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (AP)
A supporter holds a poster showing President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (AP)

By Hamza Hendawi

A coalition of eight Egyptian opposition parties and 150 pro-democracy public figures have urged voters to boycott the March presidential election, saying it amounts to “absurdity bordering on madness”.

The group argues that the handling of the vote by authorities resembled “old and crude dictatorships”.

The incumbent, general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is virtually certain to win a second, four-year term in the March 26-28 vote, sweeping aside a little-known candidate whose last-minute participation in the poll spared the government the embarrassment of a single-candidate election.

The call for a boycott by the Civilian Democratic Movement came just days after five opposition figures, including a 2012 presidential candidate and two top campaign aides for presidential hopeful Sami Annan, called on voters to stay away from ballot boxes and on Egyptians not to recognise the vote’s outcome.

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is virtually assured of a second term (AP)

The ideology of the eight parties is rooted in the 2011 uprising that toppled the 29-year regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. They also supported the massive June 2013 protests against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, which paved the way for the military’s removal of him the following month.

Now, they and others are sidelined by Mr el-Sissi, who has in the last four years focused on containing an insurgency by Islamic militants and reviving a battered economy, while overseeing one of the largest crackdowns against dissent in the country’s living memory.

The parties have limited support on the ground, in large part due to restrictions on their activities placed by security agencies.

Their call for a boycott, however, carries symbolic significance and could invite protest votes by the many Egyptians victimised by the soaring prices caused by el-Sissi’s ambitious economic reforms, or encourage voters to stay home, an easy option given that the incumbent is certain to retain his job until 2022.

Presidential candidate Moussa Osman Moussa of the Ghad, or Tomorrow, party (AP)

The parties said their young members came up with the slogan “stay home” for their boycott campaign.

Speakers for the parties did not say what they intend to do to make their call for a boycott effective, but they are helped by the country’s track record of extremely low turnout for referendums or elections whose outcome is a foregone conclusion. Mr el-Sissi, for his part, has in recent weeks repeatedly urged Egypt’s estimated 60 million registered voters to cast their ballots, suggesting that he needs a high turnout to grant credibility to the poll.

After a string of would-be challengers were arrested, forced out or quit the race, the prospect of a one-candidate election had cast a cloud over the election. Moussa Mustafa Moussa, a little-known politician and a staunch supporter of Mr el-Sissi, submitted his documents to be a would-be candidate on Monday, just minutes before the election commission’s deadline.

Mr Moussa is the leader of the Ghad, or Tomorrow, party, which does not have a single seat in parliament.

Press Association

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