Egypt was wrapping up a presidential election Tuesday with fears of a low turnout threatening to cloud the expected victory of the ex-army chief who toppled its first freely elected leader.
As polls opened for the second and final day of voting, authorities announced that they were declaring a public holiday and extending polling hours until 1900 GMT to encourage voters to turn out, according to AFP.
A comfortable win for former army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi over his sole rival leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi has never been seriously in doubt.
But Sisi and his supporters have repeatedly called for a large turnout to give credibility to his expected victory and his ouster of elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July last year.
Local media loyal to the government chided voters for not turning out in large enough numbers, and Egyptians received text messages reminding them that not voting was an offence punishable by a fine. A prominent TV commentator said people who did not vote were "traitors, traitors, traitors", according to Reuters.
Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, subjected to a brutal police crackdown and designated a terror group last December, has urged a boycott of the election.
So too have key activists behind the Arab Spring uprising that toppled long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, who fear Sisi is an autocrat in the making.
The interior ministry said that turnout on the first day of voting reached about 16 million out of the country's 53 million eligible voters.
But several Cairo polling stations visited by AFP were deserted in the first hours of voting on Tuesday.
Sisi issued a personal plea for a large turnout after casting his ballot on Monday.
"The entire world is watching us, how Egyptians are writing history and their future today and tomorrow," he said surrounded by cheering supporters.
Sisi's ouster of Morsi last year triggered the worst peacetime bloodshed in recent Egyptian history but the retired field marshal has vowed to stamp out the violence.
Though Sisi enjoys wide support among Egyptians who see him as a strong leader able to end three years of turmoil, some said they had stayed away because neither candidate met aspirations that had been awakened by the 2011 Arab Spring revolt against decades of autocracy.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies, who view Sisi as the mastermind of a coup against Morsi, boycotted an election that is set to reinstate a military man in the presidency of a country dominated by the army since 1952.
Sisi has been lionized by state and privately owned media, which have helped build a personality cult around the former intelligence chief about whom little was known until last year: his face now appears on chocolates, posters and key-rings.
On Sisi's Facebook page, admirers posted hundreds of pictures of themselves wearing Egyptian flags or patriotic T-shirts, with ink on their fingers showing they had voted for him. Others had banners saying "long live Egypt", Sisi's slogan.
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