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Although Tuesday was previously declared a public holiday, the commission said that extending the vote to a third day would allow people living outside the capital Cairo to travel to their electoral districts.
The commission said it was responding to concerns expressed by “a large number of voters” who could not cast their ballot during normal working hours.
Some in the government blamed the two-day heat wave which began Monday for the lower-than-expected turnout. Temperatures reached 41 Celsius in Cairo on Tuesday, but are expected to fall to 35 on Wednesday, the final day of voting.
But the campaigns for the two candidates – former Defense Minister Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi and his rival socialist politician Hamdeen Sabahi – have lodged formal complaints against the commission’s decision.
Although 12 million voted on Monday – the first day polls opened, a number of local media reported lower turnout on Tuesday, with some polling stations virtually empty.
A low voter turnout would put a dent in the campaign of El-Sissi – the most likely winner of the presidential election – who has run on his popularity as the “hero” who saved Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood.
On July 3, 2013, El-Sissi ordered the Egyptian military to remove President Mohamed Morsi from office.
Since then, and particularly after hundreds were killed when the army dismantled two pro-Morsi protest camps, the interim government has been locked in a war against terrorism as it tries to convince the electorate that its political road map to stabilise the country and revitalise the economy is the best way forward.
The former president is currently awaiting trial on a number of charges, including conspiracy to commit murder during a prison escape in 2011.
El-Sissi could win by a landslide but a low voter turnout could put into question any mandate he receives.
On Friday, less than two hours before campaigning officially came to a close, El-Sissi gave a televised address urging women and young people to vote. Although his campaign realizes there is only a slim chance he will lose the vote, his supporters have been focusing on getting as large a voter turnout — and thereby a more sweeping mandate — as possible.
Voter turnout for the 2014 Constitutional Referendum in January was just above 38 per cent. This was a considerable decrease from the 52 per cent turnout for the runoff presidential election in 2012.
Late on Tuesday, Abdel-Aziz Salman, head of the electoral commission, said that preliminary estimates indicated that voter turnout in the first two days of voting had reached about 35 per cent of more than 50 million eligible voters.
The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies