Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Polls preparations to begin soon

Preparations for the parliamentary elections, postponed since 2014, will start soon, according to the Higher Elections Committee, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

The seven-member judicial body in charge of supervising Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections has begun meeting to prepare for the polls. According to Ayman Abbas, chairman of the Cairo Appeals Court and head of the Higher Elections Committee (HEC), the committee will remain in session until a timeline for the polls is announced.

According to HEC spokesman Omar Marawan, the meetings come after the electoral constituencies law, necessary to pave the way for the polls, was ratified by president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 9 July.

“We hope that the other two laws that regulate the formation of the House of Representatives and the exercise of political rights will also be ratified soon so that the committee can set a timeline for the polls,” Marawan said at a press conference.

He also indicated that president Al-Sisi must issue a decree on the HEC’s new make-up. “As some members of the committee have reached retirement age, the decree will announce the names of the new members,” he said.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidi confirmed on 15 July that Al-Sisi had not yet ratified the two laws on political rights (no. 45/2014) and the House of Representatives (no. 46/2014).

“It was decided that last-minute amendments to the political rights law, especially article 2, would be introduced to ensure that it was in line with other legislation, particularly the new criminal procedures law,” Al-Heneidi said, explaining that “the amendment to article 2 will strip people found guilty of tax-evasion, swindling, theft, breach of trust, bribery, and forgery of exercising political rights for six years rather than five.”

“The same thing will apply to those convicted of embezzlement, misuse of public funds and crimes such as rape,” he said.

Al-Heneidi said the political rights law had also been amended to stipulate that those convicted of some of the above crimes could exercise their political rights if they reached a settlement with the authorities.

“If the amendments lead to delaying preparations for the polls, I expect that they will be ratified soon by president Al-Sisi in order to open the way for the polls,” he said, indicating that the constituencies law was the most important because it was the main obstacle that had led to the postponement of the parliamentary elections last March.

Al-Heneidi explained that a committee including a number of national experts on election laws had done its best to ensure that the final draft of the law was in line with the constitution and the orders issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) last March.

According to the law’s explanatory notes, “the committee adopted five criteria in drafting the constituencies law. The first is that the new draft guarantees equal numbers of voters in every district.”

They state that the distribution of voters among constituencies has been based on the most up-to-date statistics, officially released in May. “The statistics indicate that the number of registered voters in Egypt reached 55,471,390, while the population stood at 87,632,963,” the notes say.

In the light of these figures, the number of voters per constituency should be 160,831. “This applies to the 205 independent constituencies, which will elect 448 MPs,” the notes add.

The notes argue that there could be slight differences among the number of voters in different independent constituencies. “It is impossible to observe absolute equality in terms of the number of voters among constituencies,” they say.

As for the second criterion, the notes say that “in accordance with the constitution and the SCC’s orders, the draft committee has done its best to ensure that the difference in the number of voters does not exceed 25 per cent between one constituency and the next.”

Al-Heneidi said that after its revision of the three elections laws the State Council had recommended that the difference does not exceed 10 per cent rather than 25 per cent.

“But it has been difficult, if not impossible, to implement this recommendation, as a 10 per cent difference would lead to widening the boundaries of constituencies to unprecedented levels, not to mention disrupting the social and tribal cohesion in different parts of the country,” Al-Heneidi said, indicating that the 10 per cent difference had also been rejected by the Interior Ministry for security reasons. 

“The border governorates are of particular importance to Egypt in terms of national security and geographical interests,” Al-Heneidi said, adding that “these governorates do not have a high population density, which makes it difficult to apply the criterion adopted in the country’s other governorates.”

Egypt has six border governorates: North Sinai, South Sinai, Marsa Matrouh, the New Valley, the Red Sea and Aswan.

Al-Heneidi concluded that the draft law states that Egypt’s next parliament will comprise 596 MPs, 448 independents, 120 party-based MPs and 28 MPs who are presidential appointees. It also specifies that 448 independents will be elected from 205 constituencies and 120 party MPs from four constituencies.

Although most of Egypt’s political parties have complained that the new elections laws, especially those on electoral constituencies, will not help create “an inclusive parliament”, they have also stressed they will not boycott the polls.‎

Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, told the Weekly that “the ratification of the elections laws will be a very progressive step even if their amendments fall short of what is required.”

“The main concern for the political parties right now is that once the elections are held, there must be guarantees that the upcoming parliament is immune to constitutional challenges,” he said. 

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, chose to open fire on the constituencies law, lamenting the fact that it allocates the majority of seats to independents. “This will not help any political party gain a majority, not to mention the fact that it will open the door for remnants of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak to return to parliament,” he said.

“There are strong fears that the upcoming parliament might be dissolved due to constitutional appeals,” he added.

By contrast, Shawki Al-Sayed, a prominent constitutional law professor, said that “every citizen has the right to file appeals against the elections laws, but the government should not be intimidated.”

“From my review of the draft constituencies law, I know that it is in line with the new constitution,” Al-Sayed said, adding that “all those who allege that the new elections laws are constitutionally flawed can go to the SCC to file an appeal.”

“But preparations for the polls should go forward regardless of any appeals in order not to delay them any further,” Al-Sayed said.

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