OPINION: Low turnout casts shade over Egypt's two-part election

A low turnout has characterised the first part of Egypt's two stage parliamentary election.

A shade over a quarter of eligible voters cast their ballots when the 14 governorates - which is what the country calls its 27 provinces - when Upper Egypt went to the polls last Sunday and Monday.

The figure could well be less after people in the rest of country, including the capital Cairo, vote in late November.

Compare this to the 54% of voters who turned out for the 2011 parliamentary elections and it becomes clear there is a resounding disinterest in the democratic process.

It could be ascribed to electoral fatigue.

By midweek, when the run-off contests following the first phase are completed, Egyptians will have been to the polls no fewer than 11 times in the past four years.

The stayaway seems, however, to be driven by disenchantment.

The presidential election of 2012 was vigorously contested and pronounced free, fair and transparent by international observers.

The victor Mohamed Moursi was thrown out the following year.

It's military leader Abdel Fatah El Sisi calls it a popular revolution, likening it to the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that unseated President Hosni Mubarak.

Presidential elections last year confirmed his civilian leadership.

Authorities seemed to panic at the low turnout for that poll.

They went so far as to add a third day of voting.

There was no such disquiet this week.

El Sisi's government seems more concerned with having completed its promised road map: a new constitution, a presidential poll and parliamentary elections than with the number of voters going to cast their ballot.

Human rights organisations continue to voice disquiet about El Sisi's iron-fisted war on terror

He has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, jailed Moursi and thousands of his supporters.

Quick trials have seen hundreds of Brotherhood supporters sentenced to death.

Internationally, the pressure seems to be off him.

Egypt is back in the African Union, having been red carded after the coup.

Sisi himself has twice addressed the United Nations General Assembly.

Egypt has just been elected to a two-year term as rotating member of the UN Security Council.

Weapons sales from France and United States have been resumed.

Nominally, the parliament that will sit before the end of the year will have sweeping powers, including the ability to impeach the president.

But its make-up, thanks partly to the stayaway, is unlikely to provide an kind of check or balance to El Sisi.

The party list that has already won the Upper Egypt governorate outright comprises representatives of big business, outsted President Mubarak rural and urban networks and hardline Sisi backers.

The president may actually be able to mint some political currency from the low turn out by asserting that Egyptians are now more supportive of him than of the parliament.