Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1285, (3 - 9 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A more democratic parliament

Egypt’s parliament has gone a long way towards endorsing its new bylaws but MPs have accused the speaker of political bias

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Al-Ahram Weekly

This week the House of Representatives held stormy debates on the draft bylaws that will regulate its conduct, reports Gamal Essam El-Din. On Monday, the House approved Articles 109, 110 and 111, which regulate the election of the president of the republic.

Wafd Party Secretary-General Bahaaeddin Abu Shukka, chairman of the 25-member committee that took charge of drafting the regulations, told parliament that the three articles are in line with the new constitution.

The constitution stipulates that those who wish to submit a presidential bid must seek the endorsement of at least 20 MPs, and that an MP cannot endorse more than one candidate or endorse a presidential candidate on behalf of an MP colleague.

“While Article 109 is in line with Article 142 of the new constitution, Article 110 is in keeping with Article 144, which states that the elected president must take the national oath before parliament,” Abu Shukka said.

Abu Shukka also explained that new Articles 111 and 112 regulate what procedures should be taken if the president decides to resign or is convicted of high treason or contravened the constitution.

“If the president decided to resign, parliament should hold an extraordinary closed-door session to discuss the resignation request,” said Abu Shukka. “If parliament rejected the resignation, the members of its bureau [the speaker and its two deputies] should go to the president’s office to inform him in person of parliament’s decision. But parliament would accept the resignation if the president insisted.”

Article 112 of the draft bylaws is also new, giving MPs the right for the first time to request withdrawing confidence from the president. “It stipulates that the request must be signed by the overwhelming majority of MPs, explaining in detail why they think the president should be referred to trial on charges of high treason, disrupting the constitution or any other crime,” said Abu Shukka.

“In such a case, the speaker should refer the request to the prosecutor-general within two days so that he can begin investigating the president. The result of the investigation should be sent to parliament and the legislative and constitutional affairs committee should report on it in three days.”

He added, “The report will be discussed in a plenary session and at least two-thirds of MPs should vote whether the president should be considered guilty and leave office.”

A main feature of the new bylaws is that they grant the speaker great powers. Article 8 states: “The speaker expresses the will of parliament, speaks on its behalf and upholds the dignity of its MPs. The speaker also has the right to express his opinion on any issue.” 

Abu Shukka said the draft committee rejected requests aimed at increasing the membership of the House’s internal bureau to include representatives of political parties and independents. “As a result, parliament’s bureau will include only the speaker and its two deputies while the scope of the general committee will be widened to have a larger number of independent and party-allied MPs in a bid aimed at democratising the decision-making process inside parliament,” he said.

He also indicated that Article 15, also new, grants MPs for the first time the right to request withdrawing confidence from the speaker or any of his two deputies if they are found guilty of violating their duties. “The request must be endorsed by two-thirds of MPs and discussed in detail by the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee,” said Abu Shukka.

In another sign of democratising the new parliament, Abu Shukka said Articles 24 to 27 compel the speaker to hold regular meetings with the House’s General Committee to deliberate on crucial parliamentary issues.

“The General Committee will include the speaker, its two deputies, chairmen of 28 committees, representatives of political parties with more than five seats in parliament, the spokesman of parliamentary blocs, and representatives of independents,” said Abu Shukka. “The minister of parliamentary affairs will be allowed to attend the meetings of the General Committee whenever it is necessary.”

The House also approved Articles 37 to 94, which regulate the performance of 28 parliamentary committees. The House now has three committees on foreign affairs, Arab affairs, African affairs, two committees on the budget and economic affairs, and one committee each on defence and national security.

“Very significantly, there will be an independent committee on transparency and integrity whose responsibilities range from fighting corruption, reinforcing cooperation with anti-graft watchdog institutions, and preventing monopolistic practices,” said Abu Shukka.

The most controversial debates on the draft bylaws, however, occurred at Monday morning’s session. Dozens of MPs from various political parties walked out of the chamber in protest against what they called “the monopolistic and unfair practices of Speaker [Ali] Abdel-Aal”.

Around 100 MPs accused Abdel-Aal of reshaping the debate in a way that only serves the interests of the pro-government parliamentary bloc, the Support Egypt coalition.  Abdel-Aal won his seat as a candidate with the Support Egypt bloc and ran for speaker as the coalition’s nominee.

Support Egypt has around 270 MPs, making up roughly 45 per cent of parliament. In a statement to reporters, the MPs who protested said it would be fruitless to participate in more debates on parliament’s new internal bylaws as long as Abdel-Aal insisted on taking “politically biased stands”.

“As parliament speaker, he must be neutral and unbiased at all times,” said the statement. “But the problem now is that Abdel-Aal insists on imposing his own political viewpoints on parliament.” The statement accused Abdel-Aal of skewing the debate on Articles 95, 96 and 97 — which regulate the formation of parliamentary blocs — to serve the Support Egypt coalition.

They also charged that he interfered to ensure that Article 97 requires that a parliamentary bloc include at least 25 per cent of MPs to gain official recognition, rather than 20 per cent as was originally stipulated.

“Changing the stipulation to 25 per cent makes it hard for several political parties to form parliamentary blocs,” said the statement, adding, “Even worse, Article 97 also stipulates that members of each coalition must come from at least 15 governorates [out of a total 27], and that MPs are not allowed to be members of more than one bloc.”

Abu Shukka, however, strongly defended the text of Article 97. “Article 97 was worded to be in line with Articles 5 and 146 of the new constitution, which state that the multi-party system must form the basis of political life in Egypt,” he said. “Coalitions are necessary to bring political parties with similar positions under one umbrella and help them form a majority government in the end.”

Abu Shukka argued that all the world’s parliaments stipulate a certain minimum requirement for blocs to be officially recognised. “This usually ranges from between 20 per cent to 25 per cent,” he said. “Laws regulating the formation of political parties also stipulate that for a political party to be officially recognised, it must include at least 1,000 members, with 300 coming from at least 10 governorates.”

Besides, Abu Sukka added, for a candidate to submit a presidential bid, he or she must get the endorsement of at least 20 MPs. Abu Shukka said that since independents form around 60 per cent of MPs in Egypt’s new parliament, the committee had initially agreed that “a 20 per cent minimum is good to help form political coalitions in parliament”.

During the debate, however, it was proposed by Support Egypt that the minimum be increased to 25 per cent so that “we can have solid coalitions”. The proposal saw more than 330 MPs in favour, but the dissenting MPs said the vote could not have been correct, claiming that that number of MPs was not present at the time.

On Tuesday, Abdel-Aal promised that a new debate will open on Article 97 regulating the formation of parliamentary blocs. By Tuesday, around 200 out of a total 440 articles of parliament’s new internal bylaws had been approved.

 

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