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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Sisi says he wanted more challengers in Egyptian election

Country's president is expected to win the March 26 to 28 vote by a huge margin

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is expected to be re-elected in the March 26 to 28 election. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi is expected to be re-elected in the March 26 to 28 election. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said in an interview on Tuesday he had wanted more contenders in next week's presidential election to give voters greater choice, but the country was "not ready".

Mr El Sisi, who is expected to win the March 26 to 28 vote by a huge margin, said he should not be blamed for the lack of candidates.

All the former opposition candidates except one have dropped out of the election race, citing intimidation, while the sole remaining challenger has said he supports the president.

"You are blaming me for something that I have nothing to do with," Mr El Sisi said in the interview broadcast across Egyptian media.

"I swear to God, I wished one, two, three or even 10 distinguished people (ran) and you choose," he said.

"We are not ready, isn't it a shame... we have more than 100 parties, nominate someone."

Two prominent former military men made surprise announcements late last year and in January, that they would run against Mr El Sisi, with indications from the street that their bids might be popular.

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One of them, ex-military chief of staff Sami Anan, was arrested in January, accused of illegally running for public office, and is still detained. The other, former air force commander and prime minister Ahmed Shafik, also dropped his presidential bid.

Human rights groups say authorities have cracked down on the media ahead of the vote, to silence criticism.

Mr El Sisi, a former general who took office in 2014, defended tough economic reforms, backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that have halved the value of the pound and hit millions of poor Egyptians.

He played down the scope of the military's involvement in the economy, long a topic of speculation.

The military's economic activities are equivalent to 2 to 3 per cent of GDP and not more than 50 percent, as some have claimed, Mr El Sisi said.

He has called on the army to assist in major infrastructure projects and with distribution of subsidised commodities to keep a lid on rising prices.

To "supply more chicken to the market to push down prices, supply more meat to bring prices down, this is a measure I told the military to do," Mr El Sisi said.