Before the turnout of 47.4 percent was officially announced by the Presidential Election Commission last week, there was a seeming anxiety in the quarters of now President-Elect Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
But the announcement of the results didn’t totally negate that anxiety. Sisi, who had once hoped to see 40 million Egyptians bring him to power, only managed to see about half that number – slightly less than the 52 percent who turned out to vote in the 2012 elections that brought Mohamed Morsi to power. The results were rescued after an arbitrary and controversial extension of voting for a third day.
The blame game reached everyone, from Sisi’s very campaign, to some old Mubarak regime conspiracy to much of the private media, who acted as self-appointed campaigners for the new president. This trading of blame reflected a less coherent power base behind the president-elect.
The private media, which mostly declared their support for the army’s strongman, took on the responsibility of exhorting citizens to go out and vote to “save the situation,” with some TV hosts sending derogatory messages to those who didn’t care to go and cast their ballots. Media analysts spread about notions of the sense of responsibility that these media figures had for Sisi’s victory.
The same private media’s grapes of wrath for the low turnout in the first two days of the polls were directed also at Sisi’s official campaign, which was slammed for not being altogether cooperative with the media.
Media pundits heavily criticized the campaign for not working well on mobilizing voters and over relying on Sisi’s existing popularity. Prominent talk show host Ibrahim Eissa said in his daily 25-30 show that Sisi’s campaign does not have a “strong electoral body.”
“One of myths that was repeated all the time was that the old regime and state institutions are siding with Sisi. I can assert today that it is completely revealed that Sisi’s campaign has no electoral machine or political body,” an agitated Eissa said.
A leading member of Sisi’s official campaign denied the accusations, citing the bigger total voting turnout.
“We worked in extraordinary conditions. The criticism was due to the lack of confirmed numbers on turnout. Now the numbers are revealed and seems to be satisfactory, the campaign could not be blamed,” Karim al-Sakka, a member of the campaign’s youth committee, told Mada Masr.
However, privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm reported during the second day of the elections that Sakka himself pledged journalists to write reports demanding to extend the voting for a third day.
Denying those allegations, Sakka said the campaign was subject to a consistent smear campaign.
Another interpretation for the less than massive turnout points to the absence of the networks of Hosni Mubarak’s dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP).
In an article named the “NDP also boycotted the elections,” pro-Sisi columnist Hamdy Rizk said that the NDP’s punitive measures towards Sisi were clear, especially given that the president-elect had previously indicated his distance from the former regime. Sisi openly said in one of his television appearances that he does not have “bills to pay” to any entity.
“The NDP stood far from the polls, with its old faces, families, tribes and lobbies as a result of a huge campaign led by [Sisi’s rival] Hamdeen [Sabbahi] that was joined by Sisi himself in an aspiration for purity. The NDP boycotted, depriving the polls from millions of votes,” Rizk said.
Privately owned newspaper Al-Shorouk’s chief editor, Emad El-Din Hussein, similarly claimed in his column, “Who conspired against Sisi,” that the NDP’s position was a preemptive, arm-twisting move to force Sisi to consider the power of the party in the future.
“The NDP networks controlling media outlets exported an unreal image that the turnout is low, showing that Sisi’s popularity is on the brink and needs an urgent intervention from powers that know the cure,” Hussein wrote.
But columnist and researcher Nael Shama has discredited such allegations. For him, the influence of the NDP could be limited to circles close to former presidential hopeful and Mubarak-era figure, Ahmed Shafiq. These mostly business circles, Shama argued, fear Sisi’s attempts to distance himself politically from them on top of increasing talk about the strong role of the state, which could be detrimental to their business interests.
“Some NDP circles may be trying to propagate the notion that it is still powerful [so that they can get more gains] during the upcoming parliamentary elections,” he explained to Mada Masr.
Conspiracies aside, for other observers, the gap between expectations and reality with regards to the turnout comes from an overt confidence in Sisi’s popularity alone.
Nasserist writer Abdallah al-Senawy, who is also close to Sisi, said in a column in Al-Shorouk that a sector of public opinion that supports June 30 and the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood, and yet did not go to the polls, is “a sign of an early fidget.”
“[Sisi] expected 40 million at the polls, driven by a confidence in his popularity. It is his duty before it is the duty of others to ask why his expectations were 15 million lower,” Senawy said.