Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1246, (14 - 20 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Disarray continues over election laws

Can a fractious opposition unify its position over the legislation that will govern the parliamentary poll, asks Gamal Essam Al-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Attempts to forge a unified position among opposition parties towards new election laws are gaining momentum. Akmal Qortam, the business tycoon head of the Conservative Party, issued a statement this week saying more than 40 political parties are now willing to attend meetings to identify detailed amendments of the laws.

Parties that last week expressed opposition to the initiative are now willing to join efforts to draft a fresh set of amendments, says Qortam.

The initiative comes after a government-appointed committee finalised its own recommendations for changes to three election laws necessary to pave the way to long-delayed parliamentary elections.

The committee’s amendments to laws that will determine the workings of the House of Representatives, the division of electoral constituencies and the exercise of political rights are now being revised by the State Council’s Department of Legislation and Fatwas.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidy told reporters on Sunday that the council may take up to ten days to complete its review.

The council has at its disposal the latest statistics on population distribution, compiled by the General Agency of Public Mobilisation and Statistics and the Higher Electoral Commission, to help it ensure the difference in the number of voters per constituency does not exceed 25 per cent.

The percentage limit was a condition set by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), which struck down an earlier law on the division of constituencies for failing to provide an adequate balance between voter numbers per constituency.

Heneidy expects the new parliament to contain 596 seats, 448 reserved for independents, 120 for candidates running on party lists and 28 for presidential appointees.

While the government has no objections to political parties proposing their own amendments to the election laws, Heneidy says it is worried “such amendments may further delay the polls and might be ruled unconstitutional by the SCC.”

Qortam does not accept claimes that any changes proposed by opposition parties will delay the poll.

“President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has clearly stated that polls can only be held after the holy month of Ramadan, which means we have two months to introduce necessary changes,” he says.

Qortam, who launched the initiative, also denies the possibility of opposition amendments being ruled unconstitutional. “Our amendments will not seek radical changes to the electoral system but focus on specific articles ruled unconstitutional by the SCC in March,” he says. “The aim is to hammer out a consensus on how changes to the articles ruled unconstitutional should be drafted.”

Amr Hashem Rabie, a political analyst with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Legislative Reform Committee, led by former cabinet minister and liberal political activist Ahmed Al-Boraie, had already been contacted by Qortam, who wants them to coordinate over the election law campaign.

“Qortam believes there must be consultation between the committee and opposition parties over proposals to change the laws,” says Rabie. “The committee includes many experts in constitutional and electoral law who could help the opposition draft its own version of the necessary amendments.”

Says Qortam, “Once completed, the opposition’s amendments will be referred to President Al-Sisi. The president then has the choice to either endorse the opposition’s proposals or ratify the government’s amendments.”

“Political parties, just like citizens, can petition the president,” says Heneidy. “But I think if he receives opposition proposals he will take the natural step of referring them to government experts for constitutional and legal review.”

Rabie reports that the nine political parties that rallied around Qortam’s initiative last week has now increased to 40. “It seems that political parties realise they must stand together rather than appear fragmented in the eyes of the public.

“The important thing bow is to integrate opposition suggestions into a single proposal to be submitted to the president in the name of all political parties,” he says.

Even if such amendments are brushed aside by Al-Sisi, Rabie does not believe opposition parties will boycott the poll.

Mohamed Sami, chairman of the Karama Party, was among the representatives of the nine parties who attended the initiative’s first meeting on 3 May. He argues that a unified opposition proposal will send a message to Al-Sisi that the election legislation, in its current form, undermines political life.

“We want a change to a system that allows political parties that take more than 50 per cent of the votes in any given constituency to represent all that constituency’s seats,” says Sami.

“It is an obsolete system that has been largely abandoned in countries where it was once applied, not least because one of its consequences is to promote internal divisions within parties.”

Whatever the final shape of election laws, Sami believes most political parties will field candidates. “Only weak parties want a boycott of the polls and we should not listen to them,” he says.

Attempts to hammer out an opposition consensus over election laws are being conducted at a time when many parties are prey to internal power struggles. Wafd Party chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi is facing attempts by some party officials to hold a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

Two leading members of the Nasserist Party — Sameh Ashour and Mohamed Abul-Ela — have taken the party’s long-festering power struggle to the courts. It will be now be up to the judiciary to decide which of the two is the party’s legitimate chair. Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Constitution Party has been paralysed by last week’s resignation of its head, Hala Shukrallah.

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