Egyptian voters have overwhelmingly backed constitutional changes allowing President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to remain in power until 2030, the election commission has said.
“These [changes] are effective from now as your constitution,” the commission’s chairman Lasheen Ibrahim told a press conference on Tuesday in the capital, Cairo, broadcast on state TV.
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He said that more than 23.4 million voters had endorsed the changes in a nationwide referendum.
Turnout during the three-day vote was 44.33 percent and 88.83 percent of those taking part voted “yes” for the amendments, with 11.17 percent voting “no”, he added.
The amendments, which were approved by Egypt‘s parliament last week, will extend el-Sisi’s current term to six years from four and allow him to run again for another six-year term in 2024.
They will also bolster the role of the military and expand the president’s power over judicial appointments.
The nationwide referendum took place over three days, from Saturday through Monday, to maximise turnout.
Almost 27 million votes were cast out of an eligible base of 61 million voters.
In his first public comments on the amendments, el-Sisi thanked the Egyptian people for voting.
“Wonderful scene done by Egyptians who took part in the referendum … will be written down in our nation’s historical record,” he tweeted minutes after the results were announced.
Pro-government media, business people and legislators had pushed for a “yes” vote and a high turnout, offering incentives, while authorities threatened to fine anyone boycotting the three-day vote.
Opposition parties had urged a “no” vote, but they have little sway in parliament, which is packed with el-Sisi supporters and overwhelmingly approved the amendments.
The local media is also dominated by pro-government commentators, and the authorities have blocked hundreds of websites, including many operated by independent media and rights groups.
Two international advocacy groups – Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists – had urged the Egyptian government to withdraw the amendments, saying they placed the country on a path to more autocratic rule.
Rights groups have also criticised the conditions surrounding the rushed vote, including the suppression of those opposing the sweeping changes. Voters were only given days to digest the changes to 20 articles.
Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University, said the results were expected.
“There will be dangerous repercussion from the ruling regime as we will see more repression and restrictive policies,” he told the Associated Press news agency.
The referendum was widely seen as another step towards restoring authoritarian rule, eight years after a pro-democracy uprising that toppled autocratic president Hosni Mubarak.
El-Sisi, a former army general, was elected president in 2014 after Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first civilian, democratically elected president, was toppled in a coup the previous year.