Al-Ahram Weekly Online   14 - 20 August 2003
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Recent Court of Cassation decisions declaring election results invalid in two districts have pushed opposition MPs to renew their calls for electoral reform.Gamal Essam El-Din

Opposition members of parliament are expressing dissatisfaction over the government's response to Court of Cassation reports declaring invalid the results of the 2000 parliamentary elections in two Cairo districts.

In less than two months, the Court of Cassation, Egypt's highest court, declared invalid the victories of two National Democratic Party (NDP) MPs. Although Article 93 of the constitution stipulates that the People's Assembly determines whether to implement such rulings -- according to a two thirds majority vote -- in neither case have MPs been given the chance to have their say.

In May, the court declared invalid the results of polls for the east Cairo district of Al- Zeitoun for which Zakaria Azmi, NDP party treasurer and President Hosni Mubarak's chief staff, had taken up the parliamentary seat. The court said that polling stations had not been fully supervised by judges.

Late last month, the court handed down a similar ruling for the results of elections in the north Cairo district of Al- Ma'had Al-Fani (the Technical Institute) for which Minister of Foreign Trade Youssef Boutros Ghali is MP. The court said that a major irregularity had occurred in that contest, adding that the Interior Ministry, rather than Ghali, was responsible for the irregularity because it had failed to implement a ruling issued by the Administrative Court ahead of the elections held on 8 November. The latter court ordered that the name of Mostafa El-Nahhas be removed from the list of candidates running in the district on the basis that El-Nahhas was illiterate, and had thereby failed to meet one of requirements of standing for election. The Interior Ministry did not implement the ruling because the disqualified candidate had filed a counter-appeal with the Urgent Matters Court.

The appeal in the Al- Ma'had Al-Fani elections had been filed by Gharib Ismail, one of the candidates in the district, with the Supreme Administrative Court. Just a few weeks following the elections, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the elections in Al-Ma'had Al-Fani district should be considered null and void and that new elections should be held again after removing El-Nahhas from the list of candidates. But the Interior Ministry did not implement that ruling either.

Ghali's rivals consequently joined forces, taking their case to the Court of Cassation, which ruled that the Supreme Administrative Court's decision should be implemented.

Meanwhile, the People's Assembly has ignored the reports. Opposition members charge that the government adopts a double standard when it comes to choosing which of the Court of Cassation's election reports to implement, using its power to invalidate the elections of outspoken anti- government MPs, while not even voting in instances when the membership of prominent NDP MPs, like Azmi and Ghali, is at stake.

As an example, opposition members cite the People's Assembly decision in December 2002 to strip Muslim Brotherhood MP Gamal Heshmat of his parliamentary membership. In doing so, parliament approved a report prepared by the Court of Cassation about Heshmat's victory in the 2000 parliamentary elections in Damanhour, in the northern governorate of Al-Beheira. The court said a vote-counting error had wrongly prevented one of Heshmat's rivals from proceeding to the run-off elections.

Commenting on the revoking of Heshmat's parliamentary membership, independent MP Adel Eid told Al-Ahram Weekly, "This is just one instance of the NDP's double standards. They accepted Heshmat's report because it served their interests in intimidating all opposition MPs, especially those belonging to the Brotherhood, from mounting verbal attacks against the government. They are sure to reject Ghali's report because he is an NDP heavyweight and a government protégé."

In December 2001, the NDP-dominated parliament refused to revoke the membership of Amal Othman, the assembly's deputy-speaker and a former minister for social affairs, even though the court report invalidating her victory indicated that polling had been rife with grave irregularities, at the top of which was police intervention. Othman's strongest rival in that contest was Ma'moun El-Hodeibi, the Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide.

In contrast, the same parliament decided this February to approve a court ruling that invalidated the results of the election of Ragab Helal Hemeida, a vociferous opposition MP for the downtown Cairo district of Abdeen.

Since December 2000 when MPs took up their seats, the People's Assembly has faced approximately 1,000 appeals contesting legality of the membership of deputies, most of them belonging to the ruling NDP. The previous elections in 1995 sparked 914 appeals.

The irregularities which marred the 2000 parliamentary election have led many political observers to call for electoral reform. President Hosni Mubarak, addressing Shura Council two years ago, urged that a new electoral law be drafted which would be tough on bullying and vote-buying.

Shawki El-Sayed, an independent member of the Shura Council, parliament's upper house, said there was a pressing need to reform election laws in a manner that would end the irregularities that have routinely enveloped the polling process over the last 21 years.

Opposition figures have called for the amendment of Article 93 of the constitution to give the Court of Cassation the final say in appeals concerning election results, since the article effectively leaves the matter up to government. They have also urged that cabinet ministers be banned from running in elections, on the basis that their taking parliamentary seats prevents other citizens the chance to participate in supervision over the government.

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