Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 March 2004
Issue No. 681
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Supreme Court vindicates NDP

The ruling party couldn't have been more pleased by a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling on the legality of last December's by-elections to replace parliament's so-called draft-dodging deputies. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

On 7 March, the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) finally ended a three-month battle between the opposition and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) over the validity of by-elections held on 25 December 2003, to fill the seats left vacant by parliament's so- called draft-dodging deputies.

The court's decision, that the by-elections were legal and valid, dealt a blow to the opposition, which had been piloted by a liberal Wafd Party campaign arguing that the by-elections should be declared null and void.

The opposition had been demanding that the 25 December winners should not be sworn in as MPs, and that doing so may end up invalidating the entire People's Assembly.

The crux of the matter had to do with whether the elections to replace the draft-dodging deputies should have been confined to those who ran in the original contest for the seats in 2000, or be open to any new candidates as well.

The court ruled that the constitution guarantees all citizens the right to stand in elections. This right must not be restricted in any way that would strip some citizens of the right to run in either elections or by- elections. Limiting the by-election competition to those who ran in the original elections negatively affects this right, the court said.

The court said there was "no clear-cut legal text that restricts the right to run in by-elections to those who ran in the original elections."

The verdict comes nearly two months after President Hosni Mubarak's high-profile request for an interpretation of Articles five and 18 of the law regulating the People's Assembly (38/1972). The two articles deal with the ways and means of organising elections and by-elections. Mubarak's request followed a situation where a number of Administrative Justice Courts (AJC) differed over how these articles should be applied. While 13 AJCs declared the 25 December by-elections null and void because they had to be confined to those who ran in the original elections, two other AJCs (Assiut and Alexandria) said the opposite. The crisis deepened when the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) sided with the 13 AJCs, arguing that the People's Assembly should have revoked the draft-dodging MPs' memberships instead of accepting their resignations "because the membership of these deputies had (by force of a 17 August Supreme Constitutional Court ruling) actually been made invalid since 2000."

The SCC is the sole authority empowered with delivering correct interpretations of disputed articles and resolving conflicts related to their application. The court's ruling, while surprising for many political observers, made the NDP's day.

NDP MP Ahmed Abu Zeid told Al-Ahram Weekly that the verdict provided clear proof that the ruling party's politics are always inspired by the constitution. "President Hosni Mubarak's decision to refer the issue to the SCC reflected a deep respect for the constitution," said Abu Zeid.

The opposition, meanwhile, was in shock. The Monday edition of Al-Wafd did not even mention the SCC ruling, although the party had rather vocally cheered on Mubarak's original decision to refer the matter to the SCC. On Tuesday, the paper said Wafd Party Chairman No'man Gomaa would deliver a speech on Friday regarding recent political developments.

The NDP also won another SCC-delivered victory this week with the court's ruling that both the State Cases Authority (SCA) and the Administrative Prosecution Authority (APA) were judicial authorities that could be legally entrusted with supervising general elections. This issue had also been the source of a bitter conflict between the opposition and the NDP over the past four years.

Drawing on a June 2000 SCC ruling regarding polling stations in parliamentary elections being fully supervised by members of judicial authorities, the opposition said members of the SCA and the APA belonged more to the executive authority (the Justice Ministry) than the independent judiciary.

The crisis was exacerbated when the Cassation Court (Egypt's highest judicial authority) ruled in June 2003 that parliamentary election results in the East Cairo district of Al-Zeitoun must be declared null and void because "the polling stations in the elections for this district were supervised by SCA and APA members." In light of this judicial dispute, last January President Mubarak decided to refer the entire matter to the SCC.

The Court said the word "judicial authorities" in the law governing the exercise of political rights refers to all entities affiliated to the Higher Council for Judicial Authorities. "As the SCA and APA are part of this council, they must be considered judicial authorities entrusted with supervising polling stations in parliamentary elections," the SCC said.

Mohamed Moussa, chairman of parliament's legislative and constitutional committee, praised the SCC's 7 March verdicts. "The verdicts will greatly help the organisation of next year's parliamentary elections in a climate clear of any irregularities or disputes which used to mar previous elections, and which the opposition exploited to charge that elections are rigged," Moussa told the Weekly.

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