CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptians began voting on Tuesday for members of a newly created second chamber of parliament, with restrictive measures in place to curb a resurgence of novel coronavirus infections.
The Council of Senators will be an advisory body without legislative powers. It will include 200 elected members and 100 presidential appointees.
As in Egypt’s main parliamentary chamber, supporters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are expected to dominate.
Officials say the Senate will enhance political participation. But the build-up to the elections was low key, which commentators attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of awareness about the new chamber, and apathy.
Reuters reporters saw sparse turnout at at least five polling stations in the Cairo area, although there was a queue at one of the stations where media were allowed to film.
Election Commission and government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
In Shubra al-Khaima, on Cairo’s outskirts, a man who arrived at a polling station on a company bus said the firm’s owner had urged him and fellow employees to vote. At another polling station in Giza, a group of elderly voters said they had come because of a promise of grocery boxes or money.
Sisi was elected president in 2014 with 97% of the vote, and re-elected four years later with the same percentage.
Last year, a referendum approved constitutional changes that could allow him to stay in office until 2030, widening his powers over the judiciary and establishing the Senate.
One hundred Senate members will be elected as individual candidates and 100 from a closed list system, where people vote for parties.
The only closed list to be submitted is led by the strongly pro-government Mostaqbal Watan Party, though it included two parties from a coalition that opposed last year’s constitutional changes.
“Of course, the government is using us to beautify the picture,” by giving the impression of political competition, Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, who heads the opposition Reform and Development Party, told Reuters.
Nearly 63 million people out of a total population of more than 100 million are eligible to vote, according to state news agency MENA.
Polling stations opened at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) and will close at 9 p.m., over two days of voting. Results are due on Aug. 19.
Anti-coronavirus measures include sterilisation and nurses at polling stations, and free masks for those not wearing them.
Officially confirmed cases of the virus in Egypt have rebounded slightly after a sharp fall, with some officials and doctors warning of a second wave of infections.