Egypt presidential race starts with Sisi likely to win
CAIRO - Campaigning began in Egypt's presidential election on Saturday with incumbent Abdel Fattah al-Sisi likely to romp to victory in the absence of a serious challenger in the two-candidate race.
The former army chief will face the head of the liberal Ghad party, Mussa Mustapha Mussa, after the other potential contenders withdrew or were arrested ahead of the March 26-28 polls.
In January, a coalition of eight opposition parties and 150 public figures called for a boycott of the election, branding it a "charade".
Mussa is little known by the public and previously backed the incumbent.
Egypt's National Election Authority has urged the media to be "objective" and banned government officials from "trying to influence the outcome of the election, positively or negatively".
Sisi's campaign spokesman Mohamed Bahaa Abu Shukka, in statements aired Saturday by television stations, said campaigners will canvass the country door to door to encourage people to vote.
They will visit factories and farms to explain to voters the importance of taking part in the election even if Sisi is seen "as the favourite candidate," Abu Shukka said.
Banners by Sisi supporters glorifying him and calling for his re-election are strung across the streets, and the president's every move and official meetings get wide media coverage.
Before becoming president in 2013, Sisi led the military in ousting the country's first freely elected leader, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi.
He stormed to victory in the following year's presidential election after security forces crushed all his Islamist and liberal opponents and sent hundreds of them to prison.
His critics say he has silenced all forms of political opposition during his first four-year term.
"How can we speak of an election when there is no guarantee of a free vote?," Hamdeen Sabbahi, a former presidential candidate, told a news conference as the opposition called for a boycott in January.
Among key figures detained ahead of the polls were Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former leading member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and former army chief of staff Sami Anan.
Abul Fotouh, who had joined the call to boycott the election, was also put on a terror list and accused of spreading false news that could harm Egypt's interests.
The army detained Anan, saying he announced his candidacy illegally while still a registered officer.
He was seen as the most credible election rival to Sisi.