Towards a new electoral law
The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf is set to wrap up a new law regulating parliamentary elections scheduled for next September, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
New amendments regulating the parliamentary elections scheduled for next September will be issued within a matter of days by the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, with a meeting of the council of ministers undertaking a comprehensive review of amendments to Egypt's 55-year-old law on the exercise of political rights.
The amendments were drafted by a judicial committee headed by reformist judge Tarek El-Beshri and appointed by the ruling Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF).
Leaked in press reports earlier this week, the provisions of the draft law triggered a wave of reactions from civil society organisations and political parties, among them the controversial issue of granting the right to vote in the country's parliamentary and presidential elections to Egyptians living abroad.
While some government sources have indicated that "the issue of giving Egyptian expatriates the right to vote still requires careful study," the HCAF released statement number 49 on its official Facebook page on 13 May denying that a decision had been taken to prevent Egyptians living abroad from voting in parliamentary and presidential elections.
Another controversial issue related to the amendments is the electoral system to be used in the next parliamentary elections. Most opposition forces reject the individual candidacy system, imposed by the regime of deposed president Hosni Mubarak in 1990.
"This system leads to a proliferation of violence and vote-buying and obliges citizens to give their votes in terms of tribal and familial connections," said Rifaat El-Said, leader of the leftist Tagammu Party.
The Tagammu and other political parties are in favour of scrapping the individual candidacy system in favour of a party list system that would allow citizens to elect representatives in parliament according to their political programmes.
Some media reports have said that the new draft law could include a mix of the individual and party list systems, in order to allow both independents and party-based candidates equal opportunities to run in the elections and win seats.
The amendments to the law also aim to re-impose full judicial supervision of the parliamentary elections, and they could see the elections being held in two or three stages. Each stage would include a number of governorates, and each governorate would be monitored by judicial monitors and representatives of civil-society and human rights organisations.
In 2000, the Supreme Constitutional Court ordered that parliamentary elections be placed under full judicial supervision, and the 2000 and 2005 parliamentary elections were held in three stages, with the rule of "a judge for every voting box" being introduced.
As a result, the number of opposition MPs, especially those affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, increased.
However, in 2007 constitutional amendments were endorsed that removed full judicial supervision of elections. This opened the way to widespread vote-rigging during the 2010 elections and helped the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to gain a sweeping majority of the parliament, with the opposition winning just two per cent of the seats.
The blatant electoral fraud used by the NDP to seize control of the parliament in 2010 was a major factor behind the young people's revolution that erupted two months later on 25 January, forcing Mubarak from power 18 days later.
The new draft law also aims to scrap a 2007 constitutional amendment that allocated a quota of 64 seats to women in parliament. This amendment was enforced during the 2010 parliamentary elections, allowing 46 women, mostly belonging to the NDP, to take their seats.
The existence of this woman's quota out of a total of 518 members of parliament gave rise to objections from opposition parties, which accused the NDP of instituting a sham democracy at the expense of genuine political reforms.