CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptians voted on Sunday for a second day on whether to back constitutional amendments that could see President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stay in power until 2030.
The three-day referendum was called last week, a day after Egypt’s parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the proposals, which would also bolster the role of the military and expand the president’s power over judicial appointments.
Sisi’s supporters argue that he has stabilised Egypt and needs more time to reform the economy, but critics say they fear that the changes will stifle debate.
While the changes are expected to pass, observers say the turnout will be a test of Sisi’s popularity, which has been dented by austerity measures since 2016. He was re-elected last year with 97 percent of the votes.
An election commission spokesman said voter turnout on the first day was good, but he declined to give figures since disclosing partial results violates Egyptian law.
“The crowding that we see (at polling stations) indicates that all classes of people have participated,” Mahmoud el-Sherif told a news conference.
A Reuters reporter saw voters receiving vouchers for groceries after leaving a central Cairo polling station, which they then exchanged for packages of cooking oil, pasta sugar and tea at a nearby charity.
It was not immediately possible to verify who was distributing the food.
Sherif said that the commission was monitoring the vote for any violations, which he said could constitute “electoral crimes”.
“The commission has received no notifications or complaints of this kind so far,” Sherif told Reuters.
The election commission says it has strict measures to ensure a fair and free vote, posting judges at each polling station and using special ink to prevent multiple voting.
If approved, the amendments would extend Sisi’s current term to six years from four and allow him to run again for a third six-year term in 2024.
They would also grant the president control over appointing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of candidates, and give Egypt’s powerful military the role of protecting “the constitution and democracy”.
Proponents of the changes have argued that Sisi, a former army chief, came to power with a huge mandate after mass protests in 2013 against Islamist President Mohamed Mursi’s one year in office. With the economy improving, they say Sisi deserves more time to build on reforms.
Those who oppose the proposals say a central promise of the 2011 uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak is at risk: the principle of the peaceful transfer of power.
Some 61 million of Egypt’s nearly 100 million population are eligible to vote. The result is expected within five days of the final day of voting.
(Reporting by Cairo bureau; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Potter and Louise Heavens)