|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
11 - 17 January 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Quotas and quorums
There is currently a move to reconsider the legislation governing the exercise of political rights, and examine the electoral list system as a possible substitute for the individual candidate system. If this is serious, then the matter requires a great deal of attention from both public opinion and political forces. The latter wish to rectify the mistakes that plagued the last general elections, which installed a number of MPs who are not properly speaking individual candidates. The principal point against the list system, to which the Supreme Constitutional Court finally acquiesced, related to the fact that this system undermines the condition of equality between party-nominated and independent candidates, depriving the latter of their political right to nominate themselves and represent the people.
Still, an impartial look at the performance of the different People's Assemblies will show that the last parliament elected using the list system (1987) was more representative than the others, with 94 of its MPs belonging to the opposition. Nor did the 1987 MPs display those tendencies that have given Egyptian parliamentary life a bad name. Even the majority party's performance was characterised to a greater extent by integrity and fairness. If a system can be devised whereby each voter can choose both a list and an individual candidate for the constituency in question -- the former employing relative vote counts, the latter a simple majority vote -- then the problem of inequality would be overcome and independent candidates will be given the opportunity they deserve.
If it is legally and constitutionally defined and regulated, such a system would realise a number of goals: improved political representation, an end to single-party hegemony, the emergence of a strong and effective opposition, and the filtering out of corrupt parliamentary elements that rely on economic influence or family loyalties (which led to a sacrifice of professional competence in favour of pragmatic self-interest during the last elections).
The list system grants genuine parties with a popular support base the minimum representation necessary for survival. It calls the bluff of parties that exist only on paper. In this case, it would be possible to specify a percentage of the total number of votes that qualifies any given party for participating in the relative ballot counts. In Italy, Germany and other countries, a party must receive at least five per cent of the total vote in order to be admitted to parliament or receive benefits or support from the state (for campaigning and other purposes). This would guarantee the disappearance of fictitious parties and the caricatures they call leaders. It would purge the political scene of many a beneficiary, a liar, an opportunist -- whose political existence is maintained only in the press. But perhaps the greatest benefit of the list system would be to facilitate representation for Copts and women, since it would be possible to set aside a proportion of ballots for them -- an electoral policy that has been implemented in France in order to guarantee fair representation for women.
Modifying the electoral system -- and regulating the electoral process by basing it on the new national ID number -- could be a step in the direction of true reform. What we fell short of during the last elections, we can make up for during the next.
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Letter from the Editor
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