Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1249, (4 - 10 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

More wrangling over election laws

The State Council Department of Legislations and Fatwas is close to completing its revision of three laws which must be in place before parliamentary elections can be held. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

According to Magdi Al-Agati, chairman of the State Council Department of Legislations and Fatwas, the revision of amendments drafted by a government-appointed committee on laws that determine the workings of the House of Representatives, the division of electoral constituencies and the exercise of political rights, could be approved by the cabinet within a week.

"The amendments have now been revised in constitutional, legal and linguistic terms,” says Mohamed Gamil Ibrahim, a member of the department's technical office.

Explaining why the revisions have taken almost a month to complete, Ibrahim said that "when the amendments were referred to the council on 29 April the department's chair, Judge Al-Agati, had been hospitalised following a heart attack.

“As a result we only began the work of revision ten days ago, giving priority to the law on the division of constituencies."

Articles in all three election laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) in March. The Court ruled that the difference in the number of citizens in districts reserved for independent candidates could not exceed 25 per cent and demanded the constituency law be amended to ensure this was the case.

Now, says Ibrahim, differences between constituencies have been reduced to one per cent.

Polls, which had been scheduled in mid-March, were postponed following the SCC’s ruling.

In a meeting on 27 May with representatives from 35 political parties President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said he was convinced a new parliament would be in place before the end of the year. The putative timetable was repeated by presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef who quoted Al-Sisi as saying: "If everything goes well with the laws polls could be held in September and we will have a new parliament before the end of 2015."

Wafd Party Chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi told reporters that Al-Sisi reassured the meeting there was nothing calculated about the delay in holding parliamentary elections and stressed the postponement was a result of the SCC ruling some elements of the election law unconstitutional.

According to Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party, Al-Sisi thanked political parties for uniting to draft their own amendments as an alternative to those drawn up by the government-appointed committee.

"Al-Sisi told us he had referred the unified amendments to the cabinet to see whether they are in line with the constitution and can be adopted," said Al-Sadat.

Nagi Al-Shehabi, chairman of the Generation Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly Al-Sisi had urged political parties to enter the polls as a single electoral coalition.

 

“The president recommended that parties from across the political spectrum, including the salafist Al-Nour Party, stand as part of a unified electoral list,” said Al-Shehabi.

"The challenges the country is facing require you to join forces and compete in the elections as one force," Al-Shehabi cited Al-Sisi as saying. “If you really want a powerful parliament capable of rising above partisan and personal interests you must first mend fences and run as one bloc."

Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie warns that it is a very distant hope that "political parties with widely different platforms could run on a single electoral list.” Al-Sisi’s suggestion, he adds, suggests “he doesn’t want the coming parliament to include any disloyal elements, and certainly not sympathisers with the banned Muslim Brotherhood."

Al-Sisi's call for unified electoral lists may well be wishful thinking given the internal divisions plaguing many political parties. Rabie points out that the Wafd Party’s existing electoral coalition with the For the Love of Egypt bloc has already alienated many Wafdists.

Egyptian Social Democratic Party spokesman Ahmed Fawzi questioned why President Al-Sisi wants to see political parties form a unified electoral list when the number of seats for party based candidates in the next parliament comprises just 17 per cent of the total.

"Ideological differences among political parties cannot be so easily brushed aside,” says Fawzi. “How can a liberal party, for example, be expected to form an alliance with an Islamist party like Al-Nour?" 

Reform and Renaissance Party Chairman Hisham Abdel-Aziz said Al-Sisi had sidestepped questions relating to the electoral system during the 27 May meeting.

"Most party officials argued for the absolute list system to be scrapped in favour of proportional representation," said Abdel-Aziz. "Al-Sisi responded by saying the government committee charged with amending the laws was the body entrusted with determining what electoral system is used."

Political parties complain that under the absolute list system, which allows the party that wins 50 per cent + 1 of the votes in any constituency to take all the seats allocated to that constituency, many political parties will remain underrepresented in parliament.

Yet according to Sameh Fawzi, a member of the government committee, amendments proposed by political parties do not differ greatly from those drafted by the committee.

"The only real differences are that political parties recommend the number of constituencies reserved for party lists increase from 4 to 8 and the absolute party list system be replaced by proportional lists. They have also requested that the SCC be allowed to exercise prior scrutiny of political and election laws to safeguard the parliament from constitutional challenges following the poll."

Political parties also want the campaign spending ceiling increased from LE7 million to LE22 million for electoral lists comprising 45 candidates.

Al-Agati warns that should the government committee adopt any of the amendments proposed by political parties the council would be required to revise the three election laws again.

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