Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Parties agree not to contest election laws

Gamal Essam El-Din reports on preparations for parliamentary elections

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 6 August, amid great fanfare, Egypt officially inaugurated the New Suez Canal. On Saturday Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidi told reporters that just as the new channel will serve to revitalise the Egyptian economy, so parliamentary elections will revitalise the process of democratisation.

“Egypt was able to dig a new canal in just one year. And it will also be able to hold fair and free parliamentary elections and complete the country’s political roadmap towards democracy,” said Al-Heneidi.

“Preparations for parliamentary elections will shift into high gear by the end of this month or early next month,” says Omar Marawan, spokesman of the Higher Elections Committee (HEC), the seven-member judicial body in charge of supervising the parliamentary polls.

“The HEC will be ready to announce a detailed timetable once media outlets and civil society organisations wishing to cover the polls receive their official permits at the end of August.”

“The elections are likely to be held in two stages, and could take up to two months to complete. This means that Egypt could have a new parliament by November,” said Marawan.

The HEC has already finished updating national voter lists. According to officials 56 million people will be eligible to vote in parliamentary elections.

Political parties have said they will contest the polls despite reservations over the election laws ratified by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi two weeks ago.

Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that changes to the election laws fell short of what opposition political parties had demanded.

“The division of electoral constituencies law is the least satisfactory,” says Al-Sadat. “It gives more seats to independents at the expense of party-based MPs and retains an absolute party list system which means a list that wins more than50 per cent of the votes in any given constituency will take all that constituency’s seats. We had argued for proportional representation.”

Former independent MP Shawki Al-Sayed argues that “increasing the number of seats to 596 while reserving 448 of them for independents will result in an unbalanced and weak parliament”.

Yet Al-Sayed is not unduly pessimistic. “As long as religious fascists like the Muslim Brotherhood and corrupt symbols of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak are not part of the coming parliament Egypt can, in the long run, look forward to developing  a vibrant  secular parliamentary life.”

The international community, especially the West, is anxious to see how the first parliament under Al-Sisi is constituted.

“They wrongly believe that since he came to office Al-Sisi has shown little regard for democratic reforms,” says Al-Sayed. “The simple fact is that when he came to office Al-Sisi correctly diagnosed that it is the ailing economy that was of greatest concern to the majority of Egyptians. He also recognised that the public is fed up with politicians who have repeatedly failed to solve the problems they face.”

Al-Sadat also has reservations over amendments to the election laws that allow Egyptians with dual nationality to stand and which grant the Supreme Constitutional Court the right to issue rulings on appeals against election laws at any time.

“We are in a position in which a dual Egyptian-Israeli citizen might join parliament,” says Al-Sadat. “And parliament itself will be at the mercy of the SCC which could at any moment threaten it with dissolution.”

They may not be happy, but most political parties recognise they have no choice but to take part in the parliamentary race.

On 8 August the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, which groups together a number of revolutionary forces, reversed an earlier decision to boycott the poll and announced that it would contest the elections. In a press conference on Saturday the party said that its central committee had voted in favour of participating in the polls. Wael Tewfik, a member of the party, said 75 per cent of the members voted in favour of fielding parliamentary candidates.

The vote reversed the position adopted by the Socialist Popular Alliance Party in February following the death of party member Shaimaa Al-Sabagh during a peaceful march to commemorate the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution.

“Those who voted in favour of taking part pointed out that the police officer who killed Al-Sabagh had received a 15-year prison sentence and that following the incident  Mohamed Ibrahim was removed as interior minister,” said Tewfik.

The Socialist Popular Alliance Party was founded by leftist political activist and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi  in October 2014.  

On Monday Sabahi said “the party’s yes vote could help unify revolutionary forces who opposed the regimes of both Hosni Mubarak and Muslim Brotherhood.”

“We have high hopes that revolutionary forces will contest the polls under the single electoral umbrella of the Democratic Current Alliance,” said Sabahi. The coalition brings together anti-Sisi forces like the Constitution Party and the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party (ESDP). The Constitution party, founded by former UN diplomat Mohamed Al-Baradei, has led criticism of the Al-Sisi regime.

The Socialist Democratic Party, another revolutionary force which mixes liberal and leftist platforms, has also announced it will contest the polls.

“We will field candidates as independents and will also join the party lists of the revolutionary Democratic Current,” Socialist Democratic Party leader Mohamed Abul Ghar said on 7 August.

Nabil Zaki, spokesman for the leftist Tagammu party, told Al-Ahram on Monday that “there is a consensus among Egyptian political parties that they should not boycott the coming polls or lodge complaints against the election laws with the SCC”.

“Political parties now agree that flawed election laws need to be revised by parliament after which Egypt will be able to make progress on the path to democracy.”

Hossam Al-Khouli, deputy chairman of the Wafd Party, agrees. In a recent television interview he said: “The Wafd is against any political party launching a legal challenge to the election laws.”

Constitutional expert and leading member of the Wafd Party Hamed Al-Gammal warns “there is a high risk that once elected parliament will be ruled unconstitutional by the SCC”.

“Those opposed to elections were able to delay the polls last March by petitioning the SCC which then ruled two election laws unconstitutional. These same people will now be able to petition the SCC after a vote has been held and parliament is sitting.”

Once elected, Gammal advises that parliament move quickly “to change the SCC’s regulations so that it is not in a position to dissolve the house”.

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