Millions of Egyptians will elect a new president amid deepening divisions that continue to polarise the country.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former Egyptian army chief, is on course for a sweeping victory in the country’s presidential election, early provisional results suggested.
Sisi won 96.2 percent of about 21 million votes cast, state television reported early on Thursday, with the ballots from 312 of 352 counting stations tallied.
Hamdeen Sabahi, the only other candidate, received 3.8 percent of the votes counted.
Voter turnout was low, at 44.4 percent, despite the government declaring the second day of voting a national holiday, and extending the election for a third day.
Fireworks were set off in Cairo when results began to emerge. Sisi’s supporters waved Egyptian flags and sounded car horns on the crowded streets of the capital.
About 1,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of a popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and raised hopes of a democracy free of influence from the military.
“We are joyful because Sisi got so many votes, the results will come after an hour, we are here to celebrate,” Kawther Mohamed, who went to Tahrir with her daughters, told the Reuters news agency.
The turnout of 44.4 percent was lower than the election that brought Mohamed Morsi to power in 2012.
Sisi had hoped for a strong turnout to legitimise the takeover he led last summer against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The decision by the election commission to add another day of voting raised complaints that authorities were manipulating the vote in Sisi’s favour.
US-based Democracy International, and election observer, said the extension “raises more questions about the independence of the election commission, the impartiality of the government, and the integrity of Egypt’s electoral process”.
Sabahi said the extension aimed to “distort” the will of the people. His campaign pulled its representatives from polling stations on Wednesday in protest against what it called a campaign of intimidation and arrests of its campaign workers.
The Brotherhood, which called for a boycott of the election, hailed the low turnout.
“The great Egyptian people have … written the death certificate of the military coup,” said its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.
The Brotherhood has been designated a “terrorist” organisation by the military installed interim government.
All of the movement’s main leaders are now in jail or exile, and Morsi is being tried on charges that could carry the death penalty.