March 20, 2018 / 9:53 PM / a month ago

Sisi says he wanted more challengers in Egyptian election

CAIRO (Reuters) - President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in an interview broadcast on Tuesday he had wanted more contenders in next week’s presidential election to give voters greater choice, but the country was “not ready”.

A man walks by a poster of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for the upcoming presidential election, in Cairo, Egypt March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Sisi, who is expected to win the March 26-28 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 citing intimidation, and the sole remaining challenger has said he supports the president.

“You are blaming me for something that I have nothing to do with,” Sisi said in the interview that was broadcasted across major Egyptian channels.

“I swear to God, I wished 1,2,3 or even 10 distinguished people (ran) and you choose,” he added.

“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 Sisi, with indications from the street that their bids might be popular.

People are seen in front of an exchange bureau, with an advertisement showing images of the U.S. dollar and other foreign currency and a poster supporting Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for the upcoming presidential election in Cairo, Egypt March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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

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

Sisi, a former general who took office in 2014, defended tough economic reforms, backed by the 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 2-3 percent of GDP and not more than 50 percent, as some have claimed, Sisi said.

He has called in the army to assist in major infrastructure projects and with distribution of subsidized 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,” Sisi said.

Reporting by Amina Ismail and Mostafa Hashem; editing by Andrew Roche

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