A new prime minister, a new parliamentary speaker and changing executive and legislative roles -- Gamal Essam El-Din
explores the possible follow-ups to yesterday's first multi-candidate presidential elections
Egypt's newly elected president will be taking the oath of office at the People's Assembly next week. The special assembly session will most likely take place on Wednesday. If, as expected, President Hosni Mubarak wins, the speech he will deliver to the assembly will cover his agenda for the coming six years.
Mubarak first spoke of this agenda when he launched his election campaign on 17 August. The president said his package of landmark political, economic and social reforms would primarily focus on strengthening the powers of parliament and the cabinet. At the same time, they also aim at curtailing the powers of the president, and propelling increased representation for women in parliamentary and political life.
Elaborating on the above, Moufid Shehab -- Shura Council minister and leading member of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) -- revealed last week that a legislative amendment would be drafted to catalyse the shift from the current individual candidacy system used in parliamentary elections to a collective, or slate, system. The new system, which forces candidates to run on a collective party-based list, is designed to help political parties earn more seats in parliament and create a more balanced and representative legislature. Shehab said the amendment would also specify that the party-based lists contain a certain number of women as well. Currently, there are only 11 women in parliament; the president appointed four.
Addressing an Al-Ahram seminar last week, Shehab also revealed that Mubarak's proposal for curtailing the powers of the president primarily focusses on amending -- or revoking -- Article 74 of the constitution. "This article," Shehab said, "gives the president sweeping powers to take urgent measures to face dangers that might threaten national unity or the safety of the motherland." In its present form, he said, Article 74 stipulates that ahead of taking such urgent measures, the president must direct a statement to the people and conduct a referendum. "In the proposed amendment," Shehab said, "the article will be modified to stipulate that only in exceptional cases, and after consultation with parliament, or certain politicians, can the president take urgent measures."
After next week's presidential swearing- in ceremony, the 14-month-old cabinet of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif as well as the Council of Provincial Governors will submit their resignation to the newly elected president in line with the provisions of the constitution. If elected, Mubarak will either ask Nazif to form a new cabinet -- which would then remain in office until the end of parliamentary elections next December -- or will designate a new prime minister. Rumours are rampant in NDP circles that Industry and Foreign Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid is a strong candidate to replace Nazif. Rachid's performance has been feted both locally and abroad for reflecting a genuine belief in the market economy.
At the same time, there is also a strong consensus in the business community that in a relatively short period of time, Nazif's cabinet has been able to undertake a broad and ambitious list of bold economic decisions. After holding a final cabinet meeting on 31 August, Nazif said he had given Mubarak a report on the current economic situation indicating that the growth rate had climbed from 4.2 per cent to five per cent, that inflation had fallen dramatically from 16 per cent to 4.7 per cent, that foreign exchange reserves had risen from $14 billion to $20 billion, and that the average purchasing power per citizen had climbed from $1,500 to $3,700.
Nazif also pledged -- if he remained in office -- to undertake dramatic changes in several sectors. A prime priority would be eliminating the Information Ministry. "There is a study that recommends turning the Information Ministry into a regulatory body that takes charge of information matters," the prime minister said. President Mubarak's campaign platform had included the granting of more independence to state-owned television, radio and newspapers.
The biggest change, however, will probably take place within the leading ranks of the NDP. President Mubarak's 42-year-old son Gamal is widely considered to be the main driving force behind his father's presidential campaign. The ruling party's old guard -- primarily NDP secretary-general Safwat El-Sherif and his deputy Kamal El-Shazli -- were largely marginalised. A younger member of the NDP told Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity that El-Shazli and El-Sherif actually "looked like burdens on Mubarak than assets" during the campaign.
Changing the NDP's leadership will most likely figure prominently on the agenda of the party's fourth annual conference scheduled for the end of September. Mohamed Ragab, the NDP's Shura Council spokesman, told the Weekly that the party's conference agenda would focus on two main issues: discussing President Mubarak's reform plans; and the party's preparations for the next parliamentary elections. On the latter issue, Gamal Mubarak's influential policies committee is also seeking to take on a larger role at the expense of El-Shazli and El-Sherif.
In selecting its candidates, said Ragab, the NDP will apply its three-year-old "electoral college" system. "This system, however, will have to be adjusted to ensure that the party fields the best candidates," Ragab said. There is a general belief amongst leading NDP figures that the party will choose its parliamentary candidates based on their contributions to Mubarak's presidential campaign.
The NDP also seems busy debating the future role of parliamentary speaker Fathi Sorour. Many of Gamal Mubarak's policies committee members want Sorour to retire, thus paving the way for a younger candidate to bring Mubarak's vision of boosting the People Assembly's supervisory roles true. Sorour told parliamentary correspondents last week that, "President Mubarak will have the final say on whether [I] should run again in next fall's parliamentary elections." Sorour said the nomination period would begin in October, while the elections themselves would begin during the second week of November (or after the holy month of Ramadan). They will take place in three stages over the course of a month. Cairo University political science professor Alieddin Hilal, a leading member of the policies committee and former youth minister, is the most prominent name being suggested as a potential replacement for Sorour.