Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1245, (7 - 13 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A political quandary before the poll

Political parties are unhappy with government drafted election laws. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Saturday the State Council’s Department of Fatwas and Legislation began revising the three laws necessary to pave the way for the long-delayed parliamentary poll.

According to Legislation Department’s head Magdi Al-Agati the three laws, which will determine the workings of the House of Representatives, the division of electoral constituencies and the exercise of political rights, will be examined for any linguistic, legal and constitutional flaws.

“Our initial review focused on the constituency law. Our aim was to ensure a balance was struck in terms of the number of voters in different districts,” says Al-Agati. He expects the department’s revisions to take “between seven to ten days”.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidi told reporters that the council’s revision of the amendments is the last step before the laws are endorsed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. “If the laws are approved by the council and endorsed by the president, the Higher Election Commission (HEC) will be able to set a timetable for the poll,” said Al-Heneidi.

“We hope the final drafts will not face any new challenges and that the door will be open for parliamentary elections to be held.”

Rifaat Abul-Qomsan, who advises the prime minister on election matters, says the new parliament will comprise 596 seats, 448 for independents, 120 for candidates running on party lists, and 28 for presidential appointees. “There will be 203 constituencies. Of these 43 will return one MP, 93 will return two and 18 constituencies will return four MPs.”

An earlier draft election law fixed the number of constituencies at 237 and parliamentary seats at 567: 420 for independents, 120 for party-based candidates and 27 presidential appointees.

Abul-Qomsan revealed that the laws regulating the House of Representatives and the exercise of political rights had been merged into a single piece of legislation. “Six amendments were introduced to the two laws before they were merged. The most important, perhaps, is that Egyptians with dual nationality will now be allowed to run for parliament,” he said.

Other significant changes include “stripping citizens of the exercise of their political rights for five years if they have a conviction for political corruption.”

The change, says Abul-Qomsan, mainly applies to Mubarak-era officials acquitted of corruption charges. “It does not apply to the Muslim Brotherhood which was designated a terrorist group in 2013.”

Al-Heneidi and Abul-Qomsan’s statements come amid heated debate among Egypt’s political parties over the viability of new election laws.

In a speech marking Labour Day President Al-Sisi surprised many commentators by announcing that “parliamentary elections can only be held after the holy month of Ramadan,” meaning the earliest date a poll can be held is late July.

During a meeting of nine political parties on Sunday participants accused the government of ignoring their suggested amendments to the laws, especially the one regulating electoral constituencies.

Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the meeting had proposed gathering the amendments proposed by political parties in a single law to be presented to Al-Sisi as an alternative to the government’s own draft now being revised by the State Council.

The meeting, he added, included representatives from liberal and leftist political forces including the Wafd, the Reform and Development, the Conservative, Tagammu, Egyptian Social Democratic and the Socialist Popular Alliance Parties.

According to Sadat the 3 May meeting witnessed “disagreements among participants over how the law should be amended and how they should react if their amendments are rejected.”

“While a majority of participants were in favour of standing in the elections even if their amendments were rejected by Al-Sisi a minority argued for a boycott of the poll on the grounds that the vote will be meaningless.”

“The boycott camp wants to warn Al-Sisi that the government drafted amendments will create a toothless parliament and a dysfunctional democracy, thus tarnishing the image of his regime.”

Those who support a boycott say increasing the number of MPs to 596 will paralyse the effective working of parliament.

“They argue the preponderance of independent MPs will undermine parliament’s supervisory role and turn opposition parties into helpless spectators as the chamber rubber stamps government produced legislation,” says Al-Sadat. “They want the electoral system radically changed to create a balance between independent and party MPs which would mean creating more constituencies returning party-based candidates”

A majority of those attending the meeting, however, warned that “radical amendments to the constituency law will only lead to further delaying the polls.”

The Free Egyptians Party was among several political parties that refused to take part in Sunday’s meeting. According to its spokesman Shehab Wagih the party declined an invitation to participate “because we knew it would only lead to further polarising political forces.”

“The best thing right now is for opposition parties to focus on preparing for the polls rather than complicate the situation by proposing new amendments,” says Wagih.

Amin Radi, secretary-general of the Congress Party, says “participants in Sunday’s meeting are in no position to speak on behalf of all political parties.”

“We know the election laws are flawed but this should be not be used as an excuse to further delay the polls. If the government-drafted amendments are judged constitutional then we should move quickly towards elections,” he says.

Radi, a former official in Mubarak’s now disbanded National Democratic Party, urged political parties to be “pragmatic”.

The Salafist Nour Party described Sunday’s meeting as “useless”.

“The most useful thing political parties can do now is prepare themselves for the polls. They should not waste more time proposing legislative amendments,” says Nour Party official Salah Abdel-Maboud.

Salah Fawzi, a member of the cabinet appointed drafting committee, dismissed positions advanced in the political parties’ meeting. “The suggestion that parties can draft a new constituency law is itself unconstitutional,” he said. “The constitution clearly states that it is the prerogative of the government and the president to draft laws in the absence of a parliament.”

“Once a new parliament is sitting, MPs will be able to exercise their full legislative powers, revising or amending existing laws and drafting new ones.”

Fawzi also questions how representative of the parties attending Sunday’s meeting bare, pointing out that it included participants form just nine of the country’s 90 parties. According to Fawzi, many proposals for changes to the election laws submitted during the course of three meetings which Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb held with political parties were unconstitutional. Nevertheless, he adds, if the president or prime minister do receive workable suggestions to amend the elections law, the drafting committee will study them.

Parliamentary elections are the third and final step in the political roadmap adopted following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. The first two steps were the passing of a new constitution in January 2014, and the election of a new president in May 2014.

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