Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a news conference at the El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo - File photo Reuters

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief who had clinched the throne through a coup, has announced he would be seeking a second term. But, will he face any real challenge from his opponents or the polls will be a mere eyewash to cement his power as critics fear?

Late on Friday (19 January), just as largely expected, al-Sisi, 63, announced he would contest in the March presidential race. The announcement came at the end of a three-day conference, which was conducted to hail the four years of his presidency.

He urged Egyptians to vote in large numbers and added: "Your participation in the election will be a strong message." Al-Sisi went on to joke that the citizens would "become exhausted with me again because Egypt needs every sacrifice".

"Allow me to announce my bid to run for the upcoming presidential term and what I hope from you is to show the world the scale of your participation in the presidential election regardless of your choice," the president wrote on Twitter.

Al-Sisi became the president in 2013 by removing Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi in a military coup and later secured a landslide win during the 2014 elections, beating a sole contender. But, many of his opposition voices had been silenced and critics say other candidates carefully suppressed.

The 2018 election will be Egypt's third since the Arab Spring rocked the nation seven years ago removing Hosni Mubarak from power.

Al-Sisi is widely expected to comfortably win in the first round of polls which are set to take place between 26 and 28 of March. If no candidate secures more than 50% vote, a run-off will be conducted in late April.

"Will the elections be free and fair? No, because there is no contestation – we've seen viable candidates withdraw or pull out, and we have two right now who are very weak in nature and really haven't done the leg work," Dalia Fahmy, associate professor of political science at the Long Island University told the Al Jazeera. "Al-Sisi has been systemically consolidating power around him," she added.

Fahmy was referring to Khaled Ali, an opposition leader and rights activist; and Essam Heggy, a space scientist who has limited political experience. Both have already announced their candidature but, another prominent figure has also thrown his hat into the ring following al-Sisi's statement.

Egypt's former armed forces chief of staff, General Sami Anan, was the third individual to announce the intention to participate in the presidential race against al-Sisi. "I call on civilian and military institutions to maintain neutrality towards everyone who had announced their intention to run and not take unconstitutional sides of a president who will leave his post in a few months," said Anan shortly after al-Sisi's decision.