Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1270, (12 - 18 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

New MPs divided over constitution

Candidates who won seats in the first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections disagree over whether or not the new constitution needs to be amended Gamal Essam El-Din reports.

Al-Ahram Weekly

Of the 273 candidates who won seats in the first stage of parliamentary elections, held between 17 and 28 October in 14 governorates, 266 have already collected their House of Representatives membership cards.

The House of Representatives’ secretary-general, Khaled Al-Sadr, a former army general, told reporters that MPs are required to fill out membership forms, providing a detailed picture of the deputy’s career and political affiliations.

On Sunday, the secretariat general, in coordination with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, successfully tested a newly installed electronic voting system.

Minister of Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Magdi Al-Agati, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Yasser Al-Qadi, and representatives of the German company that installed the electronic voting system, attended the test.

Al-Agati said the new electronic voting system will reduce the time required to process votes and ensure voting “is conducted in an accurate and transparent way.” As part of the system, MPs will be issued with smart cards to be used for voting.

While many new MPs have said they are in favour of amending the constitution, especially articles that limit the president’s powers and term of office, others insist it is too early to debate the issue.

Shadi Abul-Ela, a former police officer who was elected as an independent, told reporters that presidential terms should be increased from four to five years. “Four-year terms may work in a ‎country like the United States, but are bad for a country ‎like Egypt which is in desperat need of stability and a strong president,” said Abul-Ela.

Article 140 of the constitution, ‎passed in January 2014, limits presidential terms to four years and stipulates that a president can serve no more than two terms. Abul-Ela stressed that his aim is not to serve the interests of the incumbent, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

“We need to look at the issue in objective terms,” said Abul-Ela. “An elected president usually devotes the first year of his first term to exploring the country’s problems and uses the fourth year to prepare himself to run for another term. This leaves just two years to address Egypt’s host of pressing problems.”

Saeed Hassaseen, an independent MP elected by the Kerdasa constituency in Giza, agrees. “A four-year term is not enough to deliver meaningful political and economic reforms,” he said.

“The aim of Article 140 is to prevent presidents from staying in office for life and ‎to ensure the peaceful rotation of power. The principle of a maximum of two terms in office is good but each term should be increased to five years to give the president enough time to deliver.”

Hamdi Dessouki, an independent MP from Assiut and a former ‎member of Hosni Mubarak’s ruling ‎National Democratic Party (NDP), said, “The ‎constitution should be amended, not only to increase the president’s years in office but to grant the presidency greater powers.”

He continued, “The new constitution stripped the president of many powers that he should exercise so that he is able to deliver.”

Hesham Magdi, an independent MP from Beni Suef, also told reporters that Article 140 should be changed to increase the president’s years in office.

Abdel-Reheim Ali, who won a closely fought seat in Giza, argues that Article 161 of the constitution, which allows parliament to table a motion of no confidence in the president, forcing new presidential elections, must be withdrawn. Ali also objects to Article 147, which obliges the president to seek parliamentary approval for any cabinet reshuffle.

“It means that whenever the president wants to change a cabinet minister or name a new one he must first go to parliament, which is ludicrous,” says Ali. “How, for instance, can a cabinet minister be changed when parliament is in its summer recess?”

Political analyst Emad Gad insisted, “It is too early to open a debate in parliament on the new constitution. The constitution is barely a year old. We need to implement it first before we can say whether or not it should be amended.”

Ahmed Mortada Mansour, the son of flamboyant lawyer and head of Zamalek Mortada Mansour and now an MP for Giza, agrees. “It is too early to say the constitution, which won the approval of 98 per cent of voters who took part in the referendum, should be amended,” he said.

Amending the constitution is a side issue, say MPs affiliated with the Salafist Nour Party.

“There are far more pressing issues,” said newly elected Nour Party official Khalifa Salah Mohamed. “Parliament needs to discuss the current government’s policy statement, as is required by Article 146 of the new constitution. It must also review the host of laws issued by presidential decree during the absence of a parliament.”

Elizabeth Abdel-Messih, a Coptic woman elected on the For the Love of Egypt coalition list, said, “The most important priority is to review the performance of the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail.”

Abdel-Messih does not think Al-Sisi was exerting pressure to change the constitution when he said, in August, “The constitution was written with good intentions but nations cannot be built solely on good intentions.”

Said Abdel-Messih, “All he was doing was stressing that the powers granted to parliament under the new constitution must be exercised wisely.”

Former foreign minister Mohamed Al-Orabi is against any changes to the constitution. “Those asking for amendments are insulting the Egyptian people who approved it with an overwhelming majority,” said Al-Orabi.

“The priority now is to translate the constitution’s articles, especially those on freedoms and rights, into facts on the ground.”

In a statement issued Monday, the House’s secretariat-general said that of the 266 candidates who have obtained their parliamentary membership cards, 109 had previously served as MPs: 63 as deputies in the former People’s Assembly and 46 as members of the now-defunct Shura Council.

The statement also disclosed that the Free Egyptians Party, founded by tycoon Naguib Sawiris, topped the list of party-affiliated candidates who received membership cards.

“Forty-one Free Egyptians Party candidates have now received their membership cards, followed by the Future of Homeland party with 25 MPs, Wafd with 16, People’s Republican Party with ten MPs, Nour Party with eight, Nation’s Guardians Party and Conference Party with seven each, Egyptian Social Democratic Party with three, Democratic Peace Party with two, and one MP each from Egyptian National Movement, Modern Egypt Party, Conservatives Party, Freedom Party, Free Egyptian Edifice Party, Egyptian Arab Nasserist Party and Misr Baladi Party.

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