Egypt's ex-army chief and leading presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, center, salutes the crowd after casting his vote at a polling station in the north Cairo district of Heliopolis on May 26. / Khaled Desouki, AFP/Getty Images
CAIRO - Egypt's presidential election has been extended to a third day, the nation's electoral commission announced, as authorities try to boost voter turnout in a poll that is all but certain to result in victory for ex-military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
The decision was announced late Tuesday, which was supposed to be the final day of the vote, amid reports of weak participation.
Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab had already declared Tuesday an official holiday. Trading at the Egyptian stock exchange had been suspended to allow staffers and investors to vote. Banks are closed and polls were set to remain open an hour later than usual, the state news agency MENA reported.
With a third day of the election now set for Wednesday, the last-minute measures may indicate authorities' concerns over turnout. Election monitoring groups said the turnout on the first day of the vote was moderate and often thin or non-existent in towns and areas where Islamists dominate.
"A high voter turnout would give Sisi the sense of legitimacy he needs to justify his policies, especially controversial ones related to security, which will be used to continue the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood," said Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
A Brotherhood-led alliance against the power shift is boycotting this week's vote, and a low turnout at the polls could raise questions about the validity of the outcome. It may also indicate that support for al-Sisi is not as rife as political observers believe.
Al-Sisi, who has been backed by state media and institutions ahead of the vote, is widely expected to win the election against leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi.
"He (al-Sisi) is the man for this period," said Hussein Khairallah, 74, who voted with his wife at a polling station downtown Monday. "You need a man like Sisi - a strongman, a direct man, an honest man. This is what Egypt needs."
The former defense minister-turned-presidential front-runner ousted Brotherhood figure Mohamed Morsi from power last year in what al-Sisi's supporters claimed was a revolution and his opponents condemned as a coup.
Official, final election results are expected on June 5, at which point the current Cabinet is expected to resign.
On Tuesday, military choppers buzzed over central Cairo as security for the vote remained high. Police presence was heavy at polling stations, where armed soldiers stood guard behind piled sandbags.
Early in the day, a homemade bomb exploded in the Cairo neighborhood Heliopolis but did not disrupt polling, the state news agency MENA reported. No one was killed in the attack.
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