by Marwa Yahya
CAIRO, May 28 (Xinhua) -- Egypt's presidential election extended into its third day Wednesday as authorities unexpectedly added an extra day over fears of a low voter turnout in the country's first elections following the removal of Egypt's first popularly elected president Mohamed Morsi last year.
In Egypt, the voter turnout during the elections has become a subject of extreme debate. Many popular talk show hosts have claimed a high voter tally is key to sealing the "legitimacy" of the winner.
For months, mainstream Egyptian media has praised the popularity of ex-military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who led Morsi's ouster, exhorting the public to support him. The field marshal is expected to get an easy win over his sole rival, leftist leader Hamdeen Sabahy, who finished third in the 2012 presidential elections.
But on Monday and Tuesday, the official election days, images of empty polling stations and reports of low participation flooded the televisions of Egyptian audiences, prompting the election commission to add another day in an effort to avoid an embarrassingly low level of voter turnout.
"The transparency and integrity are key for measuring successful polls, and not the high or low turnout," said Salah Sallam, a member of the state-backed National Council for Human Rights.
Extending the two-day voting period will open "the door for argument" and harm the transparency of the electoral process, Sallam told Xinhua.
Talk show hosts supporting the elections chided Egyptians for their lack of participation, blaming everyone and everything from voter apathy, boycotts, and travel obstacles. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab responded to the worries by declaring Tuesday a public holiday in the hope that more Egyptians would come out to vote.
These measures create a "confusing" and "worrying" atmosphere in the country, says Mohamed Samy, head of the Karama Party, which is independently collecting data on both campaigns.
The secretary general of the election commission, Abdel Aziz Salman, said that early estimates put the turnout at around 37 percent of the nearly 54 million registered voters in the first two days of voting, the official news agency MENA reported.
"The current turnout without the extension of a third day is enough to decide the election results," Samy said.
But this estimate is a significant drop from the 2012 elections that Morsi won, which has a voter turnout a little under 52 percent, making it difficult for the army-installed interim government to say they have a wide public-backing for their post- Morsi transitional roadmap.
According to Samy, Egyptians are politically-exhausted, after taking part in seven polls in the past three years of turmoil including three referendums over two constitutions, two parliamentary elections, and two presidential polls.
Extending the voting into a third day could be seen as "an official admission of the worries of the authorities over low turnout," he added, saying the move was unnecessary.
Egypt's election commission maintains that it added the extra day to give opportunities to the largest number of voters possible, but the decision didn't please either of the two candidates who protested the move.
Hoda Zakaria, a professor of communication at Cairo University, blamed the flip-flopping of the authorities on the media's unprofessional coverage of the presidential elections.
He said their biased reports, which favored one candidate over the other, as well as their admonishing of voters to go to the polls and underestimating the significant political blocs who chose to boycott the elections, created "state of indifference" among the public.
Many citizens, even supporters of Sisi, chose not to participate, the professor said, adding that media reports, even before the election, continually painted a future where "there is no doubt Sisi will win the elections."