CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi announced Friday that he will run for a second four-year term in March elections. He was widely expected to be a candidate, with no serious challenge to his re-election.

The general-turned-president made the announcement in live televised comments at the closing session of a three-day conference that ostensibly was held for him to share his "track record" of the past four years, but became a highly publicized forum for government officials and supporters to praise his leadership.

Re-election is considered a virtual lock for el-Sissi, who led the military's 2013 ouster of Egypt's first freely elected leader, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, whose one-year rule proved divisive.

El-Sissi has since overseen a harsh crackdown on the opposition, jailing thousands of Islamists along with hundreds of secular activists including prominent figures from the 2011 uprising that toppled the regime of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

None of those who have declared their intention to challenge el-Sissi in the March 26-28 vote are likely to pose any serious threat to his re-election, leaving a respectable turnout as the president's chief goal to accord the election credibility and enhance the legitimacy of his rule.

Staggering the election over three days seems designed to serve that objective.

"Allow me to declare my candidacy for the next presidential term," he said late Friday. "What I wish from you is to show the world the size of your participation in the presidential election regardless of your choice."

"I have shouldered my responsibilities and made every effort to safeguard the nation, and I want to assure you that I cannot stay against your will," el-Sissi said.

El-Sissi vowed that the vote will be transparent.

Under the constitution he cannot seek a third term.

El-Sissi's four years in office have also been marked by security forces' struggle to contain an increasingly emboldened insurgency by Islamic militants led by a local affiliate of the Islamic State, as well as efforts to overhaul an economy battered by years of turmoil following the 2011 uprising.

Friday's announcement came after two other presidential hopefuls withdrew from the race.

Former prime minister and air force general Ahmed Shafiq said he did not think he was the "ideal" man to lead the nation after days of harsh criticism, some personal, by the pro-el-Sissi media. Shafiq finished a close second behind Morsi in the 2012 election.

Former lawmaker Mohammed Anwar Sadat also quit the race, saying he feared his supporters could be subjected to arrest or intimidation by authorities. Sadat is a nephew of Egypt's late leader Anwar Sadat.

Still in contention is prominent rights lawyer Khaled Ali, who was convicted in September of making an obscene finger gesture in public and sentenced to three months in jail. He is not detained but he would not be eligible to run if his conviction is upheld by a higher court. Earlier this week Ali complained that bureaucrats loyal to el-Sissi were obstructing his supporters.