Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Parliament to discuss media and election laws

A number of key political laws will be soon referred to the Egyptian parliament for discussion and voting‪,‬ reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice Magdi Al-Agati disclosed this week that a number of key government-drafted political laws will soon be referred to parliament for discussion and ratification, should MPs vote for them.

“These are part of the laws prioritised by the new constitution, and should be passed as soon as possible so that chapters of the constitution — especially those related to freedoms and rights — can go into effect,” said Al-Agati.

Al-Agati revealed on 27 April that a government legislative committee affiliated with the Ministry of Justice has completing a unified draft law to regulate the press and media.

“This draft has to be first endorsed by the cabinet in a meeting this week or next week before it is referred to parliament,” said Al-Agati.

Al-Agati indicated that the law has been drafted so as to be in line with the constitution’s articles relating to the media and the press.

“The draft consists of more than 200 articles that aim at granting journalists greater freedoms, such as abolishing prison sentences in publication offences, and allowing journalists to retire at the age of 65 instead of 60,” said Al-Agati.

He added, “The elimination of prison sentences in publication crimes will automatically lead to removing them from the Penal Code. Violators of publication ethics will only face financial fines rather than prison sentences and we hope that this new positive development will be welcomed by journalists who have long pressed hard for this demand.”

These developments coincide with the Press Syndicate and the Interior Ministry having been at loggerheads since last week. The syndicate accuses security forces of storming its building in downtown Cairo, while the Interior Ministry accuses the syndicate of hiding anti-regime activists.

According to Al-Agati, the draft law states that three national bodies should be formed to be exclusively responsible for regulating the press and media in Egypt: the Supreme Council on the Regulation of the Media and the Press, the National Press Authority and the National Media Authority.

“Each of these three bodies will include 13 to 15 members, to be selected by the president, parliament, the State Council, the Press Syndicate and mass communication colleges.”

According to Al-Agati, the selection of the members will be based on clear criteria stipulated by the constitution: “That they should be highly qualified in the area of media and journalism, with high academic experience and professionalism, and that they should come from different institutions to ensure diversity of experience.”

Meanwhile, the government announced that it has almost finished drafting another law on local administration. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, in his policy statement speeches before parliament on 27 March and 20 April, vowed that all laws that form an integral part of the constitution, such as the ones regulating the media and local administration, will soon be referred to parliament.

“We hope that these laws will open the door to greater media and press freedoms in Egypt and that the democratic process that has been in action since 2013 will reach a new stage at the end of this year, by which time the long-awaited municipal elections will be held,” said Ismail.

Sources indicated that, in line with the new constitution, the draft local administration law aims to turn local city councils into mini-parliaments, holding the right of withdrawing confidence from provincial governors.

“The law grants members of the local city councils the right to direct information requests and interpellations”; that is, “urgent questions that must be answered”. The draft law says “if a governor failed to answer the question, two thirds of the members will be granted the right to withdraw confidence from him.”

The law, however, stipulates, “For the governor to be finally removed from office as the move that comes next to stripping him of confidence, the decision must be approved by the president.”

The draft law also grants local city councils a lot of autonomy. “Local city councils will be able to obtain loans for implementing development projects,” reads the draft law, “but loans should not exceed 40 per cent of the governorate’s annual income. They have to seek the prior approval of parliament in order to be able to exceed this limit.”

Article 140 of the draft law stipulates that the Ministry of Finance and the Central Auditing Agency should take charge of revising the budgets of local city councils: “This revision, coupled by the high supervisory powers of the city council’s parliament, will help fight corruption in municipal administrations and improve services provided to ordinary citizens.”

Article 47 of the draft law indicates that municipal elections will be held every four years.

“While half of the members of local city councils should be elected as independents via the individual system, the other half should be affiliated with political parties,” reads Article 47, which also stipulates that “50 per cent of the seats should be reserved for representatives of workers and farmers, 25 per cent to young people, and the final 25 per cent to women, Copts and the physically challenged.”

Al-Agati told reporters that the Higher Council for Judges (HECJ) has already approved a new law aimed at forming a National Election Commission. “The draft law goes in line with articles 208, 209, 210 and 228 of the new constitution,” said Al-Agati. He added, “HECJ’s approval is the final step before it is endorsed by the cabinet and referred to parliament.”

Al-Agati explained that the National Election Commission (NEC) law is composed of eight chapters, including 37 articles. “The draft law states that this independent judicial commission is exclusively mandated with supervising all kinds of general elections and referendums in Egypt,” said Al-Agati. “This applies to presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections.”

Al-Agati said that the commission will be responsible for all operations related to elections, ranging from periodically revising and updating voter lists and observing media coverage to regulating the vote of Egyptians living abroad.

Al-Agati explained that the NEC will comprise 10 judicial figures holding all the necessary independent and sovereign powers. “They will be selected by the Supreme Council of Judges, mainly drawn from the courts of cassation and appeal, the State Council and administrative prosecution,” said Al-Agati. “The duration of judicial membership of the NEC will be six years. But the membership will be subject to renewal every three years.”

The draft law allows the NEC to seek the help of independent figures in areas of media and election procedures: “An executive body will be attached to the NEC to help it perform its duty in an efficient and independent way.”

The law also states that NEC members must make sure that all polling stations will be supervised and monitored by independent judges, thus implementing the “judge for every voting box” principle.

The law, however, states that the Supreme Administrative Court is the one empowered with issuing final verdicts on appeals filed against election results and NEC decisions.

The approval of the new NEC law will automatically lead to the dissolution of the current Higher Election Committee (HEC), which was responsible for supervising all elections and referendums that have been held in Egypt since the approval of the new constitution in January 2014.

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