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Egypt sets presidential election for late March

The Associated Press

Lasheen Ibrahim, center, head of the National Electoral Commission, which is in charge of supervising the 2018 Egyptian presidential election, and members of the commission prepare to hold a press conference in Cairo on Monday.

The Associated Press CAIRO (AP) — Egypt will hold its presidential election over three days in March, officials said Monday, with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi virtually guaranteed to run for and win a second four-year term amid a heavy clampdown on dissent.

Sissi has yet to formally announce his candidacy, but with less than three months to go before the vote, no candidate who could pose a serious challenge to him has emerged. Nearly all prominent critics of the government have been jailed, left the country or gone silent, while authorities have blocked hundreds of websites and banned all unauthorized demonstrations.

Sissi has meanwhile drummed up support with official functions in which he touts new infrastructure projects and delivers an upbeat assessment of the economy, which is slowly recovering after years of unrest.

With a comfortable win all but guaranteed, Sissi has repeatedly called on people to vote, perhaps fearing that a low turnout could undermine his legitimacy. That the vote is staggered over three days, March 26-28, appears designed to maximize participation.

Sissi, a former general, led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. Since then, authorities have jailed thousands of critics, mainly Islamists but also a number of prominent secular activists, including many of those behind the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Human rights groups have been placed under draconian restrictions, and several rights campaigners have been banned from foreign travel or had their assets frozen.

Lasheen Ibrahim, the chairman of the National Election Authority, announced the dates for the election at a televised news conference. He said a runoff will be held April 24-26 if no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote. Egyptian expatriates will vote March 16-18 and April 19-21.

Campaigning is allowed for less than a month, beginning Feb. 24.

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