Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Agree to disagree?

Arguments over election laws go on and on, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Changes to three election laws necessary to pave the way for long-delayed parliamentary elections were approved by the cabinet on 14 April but have yet to be presented in a final draft. The three laws regulate the division of electoral constituencies, the workings of the House of Representatives and the exercise of political rights.

On 18 April Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidi said the government-appointed committee – which Al-Heneidi heads – charged with amending the laws has yet to settle on the final text. “The committee still has to work on key articles dealing with the division of electoral constituencies and the number of seats that will make up the next parliament,” he said.

On Saturday Al-Heneidi told reporters the cabinet had agreed the committee’s proposed changes in principle, meaning that “seats allocated to independents will increase from 420 to 444 and the number of presidential appointees from 27 to 28.” But following a second revision of the draft this week the committee reserved the right to change these figures.

“It will be necessary to create more seats to achieve greater balance between independent constituencies in terms of number of voters, a condition stipulated in Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) rulings,” said Al-Heneidi.

“In last week’s review the committee discovered that some constituencies still included up to 800,000 voters while another covered just 200,000. The SCC has ruled that the difference between constituencies in terms of numbers of voters should not exceed 25 per cent which will require the creation of more seats in the coming parliament.”

To meet its goal of ensuring independent candidates represent on average 161,000 voters the committee may recommend an increase in the number of MPs to anything between 592 and 600. This would result in the largest parliament in Egypt’s 150-year parliamentary history.

Between 1866 and 1990 parliament never exceeded 350 seats. A 2012 study by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), notes that the number of seats was increased by 100 in 1990, when “the individual candidacy system was adopted and 222 constituencies returned 444 MPs — two per constituency.”

“With the addition to 10 presidential appointees this resulted in a 454 seat parliament.”

Parliament grew yet bigger in 2010, a year before Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising. “The decision to reserve a quota of 64 seats for women saw the total number of parliamentary seats increase to 518,” says the ACPSS report.

Mubarak’s ouster was followed by the issuing of new election laws which reduced the number of seats by 10, leaving 498 elected MPs and ten presidential appointees.

Under President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi election laws were re-drafted, increasing the number of seats to 567, 420 reserved for independent candidates, 120 for those standing on party tickets, and 10 for presidential appointees.

It was this division that was ruled unconstitutional by the SCC last month. The court ordered the government to redraw constituency boundaries to create a better balance in terms of the number of voters.

The latest amendments have been attacked by political parties. They accuse the government of blocking any meaningful electoral and parliamentary reform.

Wafd Party Chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi says the latest changes, announced a week after Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb held a series of meetings with representatives from political parties, are “botched”.

“The meetings were a dialogue of the deaf. Their purpose was to further delay elections not seek an electoral compromise or parliamentary reform,” said Al-Badawi.

He describes the political scene as “unprecedentedly chaotic” and predicts “the coming parliament will be the worst in Egypt’s history.”

Al-Badawi also opened fire on the For the Love of Egypt electoral coalition, arguing that the latest amendments had been tailored to help it win the poll. The coalition is dominated by politicians loyal to Al-Sisi.

The Wafd Party is itself a member of the coalition, though Al-Badawi insists it was forced into joining because “because its members put national interests above petty partisan considerations.”

Political parties with radical platforms were even more critical. The Socialist Popular Current Party, led by Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, has said it will boycott the poll “to protest to way amendments have been pushed through to help wealthy candidates sweep the poll.”

“These latest changes,” said the party’s spokesperson Medhat Al-Zahed on Sunday, “have been designed to serve the regime’s loyalists and wealthy businessmen.”

Gamal Zahran, a former independent MP and chairman of the Social Justice Coalition, argues that the increase in the number of seats will result in an unwieldy parliament that undermines parliamentary life and Egypt’s democratic transition.

“The increase in the number of MPs will act against any effective supervision of the government,” says Zahran.

“When, under Mubarak, the number of MPs was increased to 454, it became impossible to allocate enough time to individual MPs to discuss new legislation. Under the latest proposals, in which the total number of seats could increase to 600, we will be faced with a situation in which MPs seeking to address the house will have be allocated a minute in which to express their concerns over new laws.” 

“This is a step backwards on the road to democracy and towards a powerful and vibrant parliament.”

Article 156 of the constitution, which allows the president to issue laws while there is no parliament sitting, also stipulates that once in session parliament must review such laws within 15 days.

“How are 600 MPs expected to review more than a hundred pieces of legislation in just 15 days?” asks Zahran.

Senior Nour Party official Salah Abdel-Maaboud also questions how “a record number of 600 MPs can conduct parliamentary business efficiently and smoothly.” He even wonders whether they will even be able to fit in the chamber.

Ali Abdel-Al, a professor of constitutional law and member of the drafting committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the increase was decided only after ensuring there would be sufficient room for sitting MPs.

That there will be no time for MPs to grandstand is a good thing, says Abdel-Al.

“A good parliamentarian is one who can express himself in clear terms in the shortest possible time.”

Abdel-Al laments that parliamentary life has long been disfigured by MPs taking the floor and refusing to relinquish it as they go on and on. “Political parties,” he says, “should appoint parliamentary spokesman who voice the party’s views on behalf of all of its deputies rather than allowing one MP after another to elucidate the same point ad nauseum.”

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