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Low voter turnout in Egypt

Egyptians cast their votes in a presidential election on Wednesday.

FILE: Egyptians cast their votes in a presidential election on Wednesday. Picture: AFP.

CAIRO - Egyptians cast their votes in a presidential election on Wednesday that is certain to install former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as president, but his call for an overwhelming mandate did not appear to have been heeded by voters.

State and privately owned media loyal to Sisi put the turnout at between 37 and 46 percent of the electorate of 54 million, less than the 40 million votes, or 80 percent of the electorate, that Sisi had called for in a speech last week.

The lower turnout than Sisi had sought will sound a warning that he had failed to rally the level of popular support he hoped for after toppling Egypt's first freely elected president, Islamist Mohamed Mursi, following street protests last year.

A tour of Cairo polling stations on Wednesday saw only a trickle of voters cast their ballots. The same pattern emerged in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, Reuters reporters said.

In a country polarised since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the lower than expected turnout was linked to political apathy, opposition to another military man becoming president, discontent at suppression of freedoms among liberal youth, and calls for a boycott by Islamists.

The two-day vote was originally due to conclude on Tuesday but was extended until 9pm (1900 BST) Wednesday to allow the "greatest number possible" to vote, state media reported.

"The state searches for a vote," said a front-page headline in privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

The Democracy International observer mission said the decision to extend polling raised questions about the integrity of Egypt's electoral process.

"Last-minute decisions about important election procedures, such as a decision to extend polling by an additional day, should be made only in extraordinary circumstances," said Eric Bjornlund, president of Democracy International, in a statement.

Sisi's campaign posted pictures of long lines of voters, some waving Egyptian flags and holding posters of Sisi. "Come out and raise the flag of your country," it said on Facebook.

A 45-year-old Cairo shopkeeper, who gave her name as Samaa, said at a polling station in downtown Cairo she was supporting Sisi. "Our country can now only be handled by a military man, we need order."

But no long queues could be seen. An army officer reading a newspaper outside the same Cairo polling station said: "You want to speak with voters? Do you see any voters? I don't know why they're not coming, maybe they reject politics."