Egypt approves extending Sisi's term in referendum

A woman puts her finger in ink during the first day of voting in the national referendum on Sisi's term.
A woman puts her finger in ink during the first day of voting in the national referendum on Sisi's term.PHOTO: DPA

CAIRO (BLOOMBERG) - Egyptian voters approved sweeping amendments to the constitution, including one that could allow President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to remain in power through 2030, capping a hyped campaign that's drawn stiff condemnation from rights groups and opposition figures.

The results, released on Tuesday (April 23) by the elections commission, came after three days of voting in a national referendum on the changes - a ballot that took the form of a carnival as officials looked to ensure high turnout to give the move legitimacy.

Other changes include granting more authority to the army, as well as giving the president greater control over judicial appointments and the selection of the North African country's top prosecutor.

Almost 89 per cent of voters supported the changes, Supreme Elections Commission head Lasheen Ibrahim said in a televised press conference, saying that Egyptians had stood firm against the "forces of evil" who sought to undermine the process.

Around 43 per cent of eligible voters, or 27.2 million, cast their ballots, he said.

"Democracy isn't imported from other countries," Ibrahim said in his opening remarks. It's a reflection of public will exemplified in participating in the administration of the country, he said.

"Egypt called us, and we answered."

 
 
 
 

Egypt has 61 million eligible voters and securing turnout was key, with officials pulling out the stops trying to get the biggest participation possible.

Music blared from the voting centers while crowds of youths danced in the streets.

Opposition figures had urged Egyptians to vote against the measures, instead of boycotting - marking a recognition that the amendments were sure to pass and that the best way to show their unpopularity was to say "no."

Even before the changes were drafted and presented to parliament for approval, it was clear they would sail through a legislature packed with supporters of El-Sisi.

Similarly, days ahead of the poll, banners were strung up across the country and half-page ads dotted the national dailies exhorting Egyptians to do their civic duty and vote.

The changes cemented what many in the nation of nearly 100 million had come to see as a new reality - that Sisi, who said he has no interest in staying in power a day longer than he was wanted - wasn't about to relinquish control.

His backers, in touting the need for a constitutional revision, argued that no one other than the career military officer-turned-president had the gravitas, strength of will or ability to ensure that an ambitious economic program and other changes would succeed.

Since being elected in 2014, a year after his Islamist predecessor was ousted, Sisi has managed to revive an economy that had largely stalled following the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

But the cost of those changes has been inflation that soared to over 34 per cent before retreating, and a crippling crackdown on Islamists that expanded to include activists and critics.

Other constitutional changes include: Allowing for the appointment of at least one vice-president; 25 per cent representation for women in parliament, and the re-establishment of the legislature's upper house.