by Mahmoud Fouly
CAIRO, May 30 (Xinhua) -- The controversial voter turnout in Egypt's three-day presidential elections that were wrapped up on Wednesday have stirred up debates in the turmoil-stricken and most populous Arab state.
Initial but non-official results showed that about 25 million Egyptians out of around 54 million eligible voters cast their votes in the polls, and that ex-military chief Abdel-Fattah al- Sisi achieved an overwhelming victory over his sole rival leftist Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
Most of about 14,000 polling stations throughout the country's 27 provinces appeared semi-vacant particularly after the first day of elections on Monday. The government attempted to save the situation by declaring Tuesday as a public day off to attract more voters, and then the election commission decided to extend the two- day polls for a third day. But all efforts seemed in vain.
The turnout for almost-president Sisi and his supporters is more important than garnering over 90 percent of votes as shown in the non-official results. This is simply because the number of voters would show how people support Sisi as president after he led the ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in response to mass protests.
"The turnout is more important because it will be the criteria that would convince the world and the Egyptians of the legitimacy and validity of the polls," said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University.
"If the voter turnout is more than that of the 2012 presidential polls, it means a popular approval for the elections and for the coming president," Nafaa told Xinhua, stressing that a high turnout is more important to the success of the elections than the name of the winner candidate.
Showing that about 46 percent of 54 million eligible voters took part in the polls, the initial results seemed surprising to many Egyptians, because polling stations looked uncrowded while the voter turnout is close to that of the crowded 2012 presidential elections won by the ousted Islamist president.
Although leftist candidate Sabahy admitted on Thursday his loss for Sisi and his respect for the choice of the people, he said that he does not believe in the numbers shown by the initial results.
"We do not believe in these numbers that are considered an insult to the intelligence of the Egyptian people," the leftist told a press conference.
Sabahy criticized the "outcries" of pro-Sisi TV anchors who lamented the low turnout and accused those who did not join the vote as "traitors" or "unpatriotic."
Being shocked and angry, one famous Egyptian anchor metaphorically offered to kiss viewers' feet to motivate them to go out and vote.
The apparent low turnout, if true, is mainly because that a large number of people decided to boycott the presidential elections due to the massive security crackdown on anti-government protesters, whether they are Morsi's supporters or revolutionary.
Since Morsi's removal, about 1,000 of his supporters have been killed and thousands of others arrested, mostly from the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood. The crackdown also extended to many youth activists like, for example, those from April 6 Youth Movement, although they once supported Sisi's removal of Morsi.
The boycott by Morsi's supporters and a large sector of the youth, who constitute almost 60 percent of the country's 94- million population, seemed to have played a major role in the recent polls.
"Young people feel that their freedom is at stake and had several issues with the government and that's why they decided to boycott," said Emad Eddin Hussein, a political expert and editor- in-chief of Shorouk newspaper.
For Hussein, the younger people are more concerned with their personal freedom and have an open mind because of social media like Facebook and Twitter, unlike women and older people who topped the voting scene.
In a previous interview, Sisi wished to see 40 million people participating in the polls and casting their votes. Sabahy said on several occasions that he accepted a high turnout.
"It is clear that the campaigns of both candidates miscalculated the anticipated turnout," Hussein told Xinhua, adding that the calculations of Sisi's campaign were based on people's emotions and the man's popularity rather than logic.
Another reason for the unexpected low turnout is the media campaigns that depicted Sisi as the coming president anyway, which caused voter laziness, according to political analysts.
It seems that the turnout made Sisi, who is just a stone-throw from the presidential palace, realize that he needs to work on having the youth and the alienated forces on his side to be able to rule the country.
Sisi used to say that "there will be nothing called the Muslim Brotherhood" and that protests will be minimized during his presidential term.
In his first statement after the initial results, which was published on Friday, Sisi told a Kuwaiti newspaper that "there will be no alienation for anyone" and that his hands are " stretched for everyone regardless of conflicts or disputes."
Sisi added that he seeks "real national partnership that satisfies all Egyptians and works on pacifying and containing the youth," according to the paper.