Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Electoral limbo again

Moves to redraft two key election laws began this week amid recrimination on the delay of long-awaited parliamentary polls, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A government-affiliated committee began meeting this week to redraft two election laws after the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled them unconstitutional.

The committee’s first meeting Sunday, led by Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Al-Heneidi, entailed a comprehensive review of the two laws, one on the division of Egypt’s electoral constituencies, and the other on the House of Representatives.

Al-Heneidi told parliamentary reporters that the SCC ruling on 7 March that citizens with dual nationality cannot be stripped of the right to run in parliamentary elections required amending the House of Representatives law widely known as the parliamentary elections law.

“In compliance with the court’s ruling, the committee began meeting Sunday to debate amending the first paragraph of Article 8 of the House of Representatives law,” said Al-Heneidi, adding that,“The article in its current text stipulates that those who wish to run for parliament must hold Egyptian nationality only.”

“The article will be simply amended to allow citizens with dual nationality to run for parliament, either as independents or as candidates on party-based lists,” he said.

In its ruling on 7 March, the SCC said Article 8 of the House of Representatives law violated articles 102 and 87 of the 2014 Constitution. “While Article 102 stressed equality among all citizens without discrimination, Article 8 of the House law was formulated against this equality by stripping Egyptians who hold another nationality of running for parliament,” said the SCC.

The court indicated that, “While articles 141 and 146 of the constitution stipulate that the president of the republic and prime minister must hold Egyptian nationality only, Article 102 abstained from imposing this stipulation on those who wish to run for parliament.” “As a result,” the SCC said, “Article 8 of the House law discriminates against Egyptians with another nationality” and that “the law must be amended to eliminate this discrimination.”

The court argued that Article 8 of the House law also violated Article 87 of the 2014 Constitution, which allows all Egyptians without discrimination the right to participate in political life, including the right to vote and run for parliament.

According to the SCC, “An Egyptian with another nationality does not mean that he is a citizen with dual loyalty. Article 6 of the constitution is clear that those who are born to an Egyptian father only or an Egyptian mother only are considered fully Egyptian citizens, even if they hold another nationality,” said the SCC.

The SCC’s ruling, however, drew criticism from political and even judicial circles. Shawki Al-Sayed, a former independent MP and a high-profile lawyer, argued that “in 1994, the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) stripped Coptic businessman Rami Lakah of parliamentary membership upon the grounds he was an Egyptian-French citizen.”

He added that “SAC concluded at that time that dual nationality means dual loyalty, and as a result we are here with two supreme judicial authorities giving two contrasting interpretations on dual nationality.”

Al-Heneidi indicated that the committee in its Sunday meeting also reviewed the SCC’s 1 March ruling that Article 3 of the electoral constituencies law was unconstitutional.

Al-Heneidi explained that the article was designed to regulate competition among independent candidates in 237 constituencies. “As a result, our review will be mainly focused on amending independent constituencies, and not covering four constituencies related to competition among party lists,” he said.

The SCC’s ruling on 1 March stated that it observed stark discrimination in terms of the number of voters in constituencies affiliated with 13 governorates out of a total of 17. “Not to mention that some constituencies were drawn in a very arbitrary way and for no objective reasons,” the court said, recommending that the drafting committee set an average of 168,000 voters per constituency, given “the population of Egypt stands at 86.8 million, the number of registered voters is 54.7 million and the number of seats allocated to independents is 420”.

Al-Heneidi said in compliance with the above ruling that the committee’s amendments will be confined to 13 governorates where differences among independent constituencies are big. “In drafting these amendments, we will also contact the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) to provide us with up-to-date statistics about voters and population density in each governorate,” Al-Heneidi said.

Al-Heneidi indicated the scope of the committee, now including 11 members, would not be widened to include representatives from political parties. “But we contacted political forces to send us their proposals about the required amendments within the coming 15 days,” said Al-Heneidi, underlining that upon instruction from President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the committee will be required to finish its job  amending the two laws  in less than one month.

According to Al-Heneidi, the SCC’s rulings on 1 and 7 March have brought preparations for Egypt’s long-delayed parliamentary elections “back to square one”. “I mean that there will be a complete review of the two election laws and that citizens whose candidacy registration papers were rejected will be entitled to apply again,” Al-Heneidi said.

The Higher Election Committee (HEC) indicated that, “The elections, which were originally scheduled to be held in two rounds between 21-22 March and 6-7 May, were now put on hold pending amending the two election laws in line with the SCC’s rulings.”

Al-Heneidi said: “We feel sorry that parliamentary elections were postponed for constitutional reasons, but we hope preparations will be back on track very soon and that a new timetable for the polls will be set within one month or even less.”

Egypt’s parliamentary elections are regulated by three laws: the law on the exercise of political rights, the House of Representatives law, and the electoral constituencies law.

Salah Fawzi, a member of the drafting committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that in accordance with the SCC’s ruling on 1 March, “the constituencies reserved to competition among independent candidates will be the only ones subject to change.”

“The number of these constituencies stands at 237, and as a result of SCC’s ruling they could increase or decrease,” said Fawzi, adding that, “As for party list constituencies, the SCC said there is nothing wrong with them.”

Meanwhile, political parties and the 11-member drafting committee exchanged accusations over responsibility for the latest delay to parliamentary elections. Mohamed Abu Al-Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, accused President Al-Sisi and the drafting committee of “formulating laws that only aim to delay the elections forever” and put the country into what he said was “a permanent state of electoral limbo”.

Abul-Ghar, in an article in a private newspaper, accused former interim president Adli Mansour and ex-army chief Al-Sisi, now president of Egypt, of orchestrating the drafting of a constitution to serve their interests. President Al-Sisi responded by denying having any hand in drafting the constitution.

Joining forces, Amr Moussa, Egypt’s former high-profile foreign minister and chairman of the 50-member committee that drafted the 2014 Constitution, strongly denied that “the committee has ever come under pressure from Al-Sisi or Mansour” to draft articles of the constitution “in any way”. Moussa, however, recommended that Egypt have a new parliament by June, “because this will show the world we are moving seriously towards democracy”.

For his part, Al-Heneidi blamed the committee that drafted Egypt’s new constitution last year for the country’s current election crisis. “The election texts were drafted by this committee in a very vague way, rather than in clear cut terms,” he said.

Al-Heneidi also sharply criticised “those who accuse the government and Al-Sisi of trying their best to delay parliamentary elections.” “To those liberals, I say you are addicts of conspiracy theory, because the regime demonstrated several times that it wants parliamentary elections to be held as soon as possible,” he said.

Ali Abdel-Al, a constitutional law professor, told the Weekly that, “The 50-member committee which included Abu Al-Ghar and other chairmen of political parties drafted the election texts in a way that observed political interests rather than constitutional considerations.”

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