Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Electoral divisions

A national dialogue left politicians divided over amendments in two election laws necessary to pave the way for the country’s parliamentary elections, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and the representatives of 26 political parties had two meetings last week to review political laws necessary to help  the country’s long-delayed parliamentary elections move forward. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidi told reporters that while mainstream political forces showed consensus over some points, they were divided over how the country’s electoral constituencies law should be amended.

Heneidi indicated that “more meetings with political forces will continue beyond the current month of April in a bid to reach a kind of consensus over election laws and help the long-delayed parliamentary polls kick off ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, to begin 18 June.”  

Heneidi added, “We hope the registration stage will begin before Ramadan, then the vote can be held after Ramadan and the Eid (feast) holiday.” He stressed that “the government wants parliamentary elections be held as soon as possible, but it also wants to make sure that the election laws are free of any constitutional flaws.”

The elections were originally scheduled to begin on 21-22 March, but were postponed after the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled two election laws - on the division of electoral constituencies and the workings of the House of

Representatives -  unconstitutional. The elections will be the country’s first since the 2013 ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

For his part, Prime Minister Mehleb insisted that the government did not have a hand in postponing the parliamentary elections, stressing that his cabinet is “dedicated” to carrying them out as soon as possible.

Mehleb said he believes the delay will “contribute to protecting the continuity of the upcoming parliament, avoid previous mistakes, and give it constitutional immunity against dissolution.”

Mehleb’s second meeting, held on Tuesday, drew representatives from as many as 15 political parties as well as the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party. Senior officials from Al-Geel, Al-Ghad, the “Love for Egypt” coalition, and the revolutionary Tamarod movement also attended the meeting. A number of high-profile public figures such as film director Khaled Youssef, chairman of Al-Gomhouria Centre for Political and Strategic Studies Sameh Seif Al-Yazal and SCC’s former deputy chairman Tahani Al-Gibali were also among the participants.

The first two-hour meeting with Mehleb, held on 2 April, drew representatives from 11 political parties, including the Wafd, the Reform and Development Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Conservatives Party, and the leftist Tagammu Party. Another group of political parties affiliated with former president Hosni Mubarak’s defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) also attended. These included the Congress Party, My Homeland Egypt Party, and the Independence Bloc.

According to Chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party Anwar Al-Sadat, the two meetings showed two contradictory viewpoints. “A number of political parties, mostly those affiliated with the former regime of Hosni Mubarak in one way or another, rejected any radical change of the constituencies law,” Sadat said, indicating that “this group of secular forces wants the law be amended so that it will be in line with the constitution and the SCC’s orders only.”

According to Yehia Qadri, deputy chairman of the National Movement Party, founded by Mubarak’s former prime minister Ahmed Shafik, “the amendments of the law should be tailored mainly to be in line with SCC’s 1 March order that ‘equality must be struck among independent constituencies in 13 governorates and that differences among these constituencies in terms of number of voters must not exceed 25 percent’. This can be achieved either by changing the boundaries of the constituencies or increasing the number of independent candidates,” Qadri said. He went on to warn that “amendments should not go beyond this scope to radically change the distribution of seats among independent and party-based candidates because this could further delay parliamentary polls, since such radical changes could be ruled unconstitutional”.

The law states that as many as 420 independents will be elected from 237 constituencies and 180 party candidates from four constituencies. A number of 27 representatives will be appointed by the president.

Heneidi told reporters that the most likely scenario is that the number of independent seats will be increased from 420 to 460, thus raising the total number of parliamentary seats from 567 to 587 or 588. “We are also open to proposals aimed at increasing the number of seats allocated to party candidates,”

Heneidi said, but he insisted that “a proposal that the total number of parliamentary seats should be increased to 600 will be rejected.”

On the other hand, Sadat said, another group including liberal, leftist and revolutionary forces pressed hard for radically changing the constituencies law. “There were three proposals in this respect,” Sadat said, explaining, “The first aims to keep the four-list constituencies aiming to elect 120 party candidates in place. The second seeks to raise the party list constituencies from four to eight, with 15 to be elected from each, and this proposal was based upon the claim that this new division makes the size of constituencies smaller, easier and less costly for candidates to cover by their campaigns.” 

Sadat said the third proposal is what could  be called “the 40-40-20 division, or that 40 percent of seats should be reserved to independents, another 40 percent for party candidates to be elected by the majority list system, and the remaining 20 per cent to be allocated to marginalised brackets such as women and Copts.” 

According to Sadat, “the second proposal – that is, increasing the number of party list constituencies from four to eight – got the highest number of votes.”

Sadat said that, while politicians disagreed over the amendments of the constituencies law, they were almost unanimous that the SCC must exercise a pre-scrutiny of laws. 

Heneidi said the government “welcomed this demand because it helps keep the coming parliament immune from any constitutional challenges. But political parties should be careful that pre-scrutiny will not prevent a post-scrutiny, because all citizens have the right to go to the SCC even if a certain law was constitutionally scrutinized ahead of

application,” Heneidi indicated. He added that pre-scrutiny will not require an amendment to the constitution or a public referendum, as some had thought, but “will simply necessitate prior approval by the SCC’s general assembly”.

Sadat also indicated that all political parties agreed that the House of Representatives law should be amended to allow citizens with dual nationality to run for parliament.

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