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By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

CAIRO — Egyptians went to the polls on Tuesday for a second and final day of presidential balloting, with authorities seeking to bolster turnout and secure a broad mandate for an expected victory by ex-military chief Abdel Fattah Sisi.

Public employees were given the day off Tuesday to ensure they could vote, traveling back to hometowns if necessary, and polling hours were extended late into the evening. On the eve of the election, interim President Adly Mansour had appealed to Egyptians to do their national duty by turning out.

While a win for Sisi is widely regarded as a foregone conclusion, his backers are doing all they can to ensure a turnout large enough to give credibility to the claim that the former field marshal was obeying the will of the people when he ousted unpopular Islamist president Mohamed Morsi nearly 11 months ago.

Morsi was Egypt’s first freely elected president, and his supporters consider his removal a military coup. Secular critics say Sisi’s de facto rule since July marks a return to the authoritarian ways of Hosni Mubarak, the dictator who ruled for decades and who was forced out by a popular uprising three years ago.

Backers of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood have waged a months-long campaign of street protests to demand his reinstatement, clashing weekly and sometimes daily with security forces. The interim government’s response — a harsh crackdown that has left thousands of Brotherhood backers dead or jailed — drew international criticism, but little outrage from turmoil-weary Egyptians.

Sisi has pledged that the Brotherhood, now banned and designated a terrorist group, will not be allowed to re-emerge as a political force. The movement urged its supporters to boycott the election, as did some secular dissidents.

Despite the country’s deep political polarization, the first day of polling passed without any major outbreak of violence. Again on Tuesday, army helicopters thundered low over residential neighborhoods, and police and soldiers clustered at the entrances to polling places.

Sisi’s sole opposition was liberal politician Hamdeen Sabahi. While he is given almost no chance of winning, his backers were undaunted.

“Even if we all know that Sisi will win it, we want Sabahi to win a considerable amount of votes,” said Khaled El-Gayar, a 29-year-old market researcher. “Why not have a 60-40 vote for Sisi, instead of him winning over 90 percent of the votes? We need to maintain an opposition bloc.”

For those at polling places with long lines, scorching temperatures made the vote an exercise in endurance.

At some locales, canopies protected voters from the sun, but in others, those waiting to cast ballots fashioned sunshades from anything at hand. At one polling place, a red-faced woman emptied an entire bottle of mineral water onto her head, which was covered in a tight-fitting scarf. Then she smiled, looking relieved.

Unofficial results were expected to be reported within a few days, with the formal count to be unveiled next week.

AFP Screen Capture 

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