CAIRO — Egypt granted government workers a half-day off on Monday in an attempt to boost low turnout in the first legislative elections since a chamber dominated by Islamists was dissolved by a court ruling in 2012, but there was no sign of increased activity at polling stations.
Monday is the second day of voting in 14 provinces, including Cairo's Giza district and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. Voting in Egypt's other 13 provinces, including Cairo, will take place next month.
Final results are scheduled to be announced in December and the 596-seat chamber is expected to hold its inaugural session later in the month, thus completing a three-phase political roadmap announced by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi when, as military chief, he ousted Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.
The first two phases were drafting and adopting a new constitution by January 2014, replacing a charter mostly written by Morsi supporters and which had an Islamist slant. Presidential elections, which el-Sissi won last year, were the second stage.
The parliamentary elections are widely expected to result in a rubber-stamp assembly supportive of el-Sissi, who urged Egyptians to vote in a televised address Saturday. A low turnout would indicate growing disillusionment or distrust of the political system under his rule.
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said turnout in Sunday's voting was between 15 and 16 percent, according to the official Middle East News Agency, and some half dozen judges interviewed by the Associated Press on Monday gave roughly the same figure. Ismail did not say on what he based his figures and there was no way to independently confirm them.
The figures given by officials, however, appeared to be much higher than the extensive coverage by local and regional TV news networks would suggest. State media has acknowledged that turnout was generally weak on Sunday.
Associated Press reporters who toured polling centers across Giza on Sunday and Monday said that, unlike in previous elections held since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, there were no long lines.
Women and elderly people dominated those who cast their ballots, they said. On Monday, they saw only a slow trickle of voters at polling centers in Giza, and still no lines by Monday afternoon.
The decision to give government workers a half-day off on Monday reflected deep concern over the turnout, which analysts and observers have said may not exceed 10 percent. The state-owned Al-Ahram daily said the government urged private businesses to ensure employees are able to get off work and vote.
Private broadcaster CBC aired simultaneous live footage from 16 polling centers in various parts of the country that were mostly empty. The channel played advertisements between segments appealing to Egyptians to go out and vote.
In the coastal province of Alexandria, public transport will be free from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to encourage a bigger turnout, according to a statement from Governor Hany el-Messiry's office.
In the Giza district of Dokki, there were no lines and only a slow trickle of voters by late Monday morning at one polling center.
"We were expecting more than this. This is our country, and we have to stand by it," said retiree Fatima Salam. "Unfortunately the youth aren't coming out. Us old people are."
The next parliament is widely expected to support el-Sissi, who is struggling to revive the economy, crush an Islamist insurgency and play an assertive political and military role in a turbulent Middle East. Such a chamber would harken back to the Mubarak era, when elections during his 29-year rule were rigged or manipulated to give his National Democratic Party an overwhelming majority in what amounted to rubber-stamp legislatures.
"There must be an opposition. A parliament doesn't work without opposition," Madiha Mohammed Tawfik, a 65-year-old accountant said outside a polling center at Pyramids Street, Giza.
Government workers Ahmed Gamal and Ibrahim Yaseen, speaking outside another polling center on Pyramids Street, said they were only voting because they had received time off work.
"People have never elected anyone that did anything for them," said Yaseen. "The question should not be 'why are they not voting?' It should be 'why should they vote?'"
Ibrahim Eissa, a prominent columnist who supported the 2013 ouster of Morsi, the country's first freely elected leader, lamented in an article Monday that little has changed in Egypt since Mubarak's ouster, arguing that the "absence of politics" in the public sphere has left el-Sissi in sole charge of just about everything.
The low turnout, he argued, underlined the political apathy among Egyptians.
"We are back to the old, pre-January (2011) scene, when people saw no point in elections, parliament or democracy," he wrote on the front page of the daily Al-Maqal. "This will take us to where it took the old (Mubarak) regime. Anyone who cannot see that is, without an iota of hesitation, blind."
Associated Press writer Maram Mazen in Cairo contributed to this report.