Setting the rules
Following an eight hour meeting on 3 July the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf approved two new laws regulating elections to the People's Assembly and Shura Council. The draft must now be ratified by the ruling Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF). The government also endorsed the 28 June Administrative Court order dissolving local councils.
HCAF chairman, Minister of Defence Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, met with members of the Higher Election Commission (HEC) on the same day. The meeting reviewed the planned changes to the People's Assembly and Shura Council laws as well as the guarantees necessary to ensure that the upcoming elections are transparent.
The moves fuelled speculation that the HCAF remains committed to parliamentary elections next September despite growing calls from opposition forces that a new constitution be drafted ahead of the poll. Many expect tomorrow's Constitution First rally, to be held in Tahrir Square, to attract some of the largest crowds seen since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
The amended People's Assembly and Shura Council law will introduce a hybrid individual candidacy and party-list system. According to government spokesman Ahmed El-Samman, half of all seats will be elected via a proportional party-list system, the other via individual candidacy. "The boundaries of each district," says El-Samman, "will be chosen to allow party-based and independent candidates to compete on an equal footing."
"Existing geographic and administrative boundaries will be weighed against density of population in redrawing electoral districts."
The amendments state that, "each competing party must get a threshold of two per cent of votes in order to be eligible to join parliament."
Under the amendments parties must win two per cent of the popular vote to secure parliamentary representation. In the 1980s the threshold was set at seven per cent. "It has been reduced," says El-Samman, "to make it much easier for parties to gain a foothold in the new parliament."
The new law will scrap the year-old quota of 64 seats reserved for women, though they stipulate each party list contains at least one female candidate per district.
The amendments reduce the age qualification of candidates from 30 to 25. The move, says El-Samman, "is intended to allow young people -- especially those belonging to the youth movements of the 25 January Revolution -- to join parliament and inject new blood into its ranks".
The 47-year-old 50 per cent quota of seats reserved for representatives of workers and farmers is to be retained.
Time was running out for the amendments, argues Deputy Prime Minister Yehia El-Gamal. "Parliamentary elections are now so close that it is imperative to establish the framework within which parties will be competing."
Meanwhile, a coalition of 26 opposition forces including the liberal parties of the Wafd and Ghad and Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party wrapped up their own series of meetings this week with recommendations the HCAF-drafted law on the People's Assembly be radically changed.
"The coalition has prepared a bill that radically differs from that drafted by the government," says Gamal Zahran, professor of economics and political science at Suez Canal University and a former independent MP.
Members of the coalition held a meeting on Monday night, sharply criticising the fact that the government law has maintained the individual candidacy system. "Individual candidacy has led to vote-buying and to violent clashes during elections," says Ayman Nour, leader of the liberal Ghad Party. Nour said, "the draft law proposed by the coalition insists that the individual candidacy system be completely scrapped in favour of adopting a party-list system free of the necessity of getting any threshold of votes. Nour said, "representatives of the coalition will meet today to review the final draft of their law on the regulation of parliamentary elections."
The coalition, Nour said, agreed with the government on one point, maintaining the quota of seats reserved for workers and farmers representatives, though only after qualifications are introduced to the current definition of both workers and farmers.
Zahran accused ousted president Hosni Mubarak's defunct ruling National Democratic Party of exploiting their monopoly of political life to allow wealthy businessmen to pose as workers for the sake of a parliamentary seat.
The coalition also recommended a party-list system.
"It would not be fair to independent candidates," says Zahran, "because in each district a list of independent candidates, running on one ticket, could be presented alongside party- based candidates."
The coalition draft law also stipulates that MPs become full time representatives of their constituents. They must give up existing jobs, and any commercial or non-commercial activities, insists Zahran.
It is the second time in two weeks that changes to the People Assembly's law have been recommended by opposition forces. Last week the government-sponsored National Consensus Conference suggested the quota of 50 per cent of seats reserved for representatives of workers and farmers be scrapped.
HCAF legal adviser Mamdouh Shahin has said the draft People's Assembly law will be subject to public debate in "an attempt to build some kind of consensus and refute charges that HCAF is only interested in imposing laws".