Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Putting the House in order

The Shura Council has begun discussing a new law aimed at regulating parliamentary elections, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Islamist-dominated Shura Council — Egypt’s upper house of parliament currently endowed with legislative powers — rushed on Tuesday to open an article-by-article discussion of a new law aimed at regulating the elections of the House of Representatives, Egypt’s lower house. The draft was referred to the council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 26 March after it was approved in principle in a plenary session. The committee took two weeks to conduct an article-by-article discussion of the draft law and review amendments proposed by MPs. On Monday, the 42-article law was approved by the committee and was referred back to the council to be discussed on Tuesday.

The law is expected to be approved on Wednesday or Thursday alongside a new law on the exercise of political rights approved on 3 April and referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) to be revised in accordance with Article 177 of the constitution. If approved by the SCC, President Mohamed Morsi would be allowed to set a date for parliamentary elections.

Ahmed Fahmi, chairman of the Shura Council and a leading official of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice (FJP) Party, indicated on Tuesday that the first article of the law will be put to a vote at the very end of the discussion and until the council reaches an agreement on the re-drawing of districts.

According to the initial texts of Article 1, the coming house will include 552 MPs to be elected in a direct secret ballot. The Supreme Elections Committee (SEC) proposed that out of the 552 members (rather than 546 as stated by the current law), six seats will be reserved for Egyptians living outside of Egypt. 

Sobhi Saleh, a leading FJP official and a member of the council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, indicated that “SEC proposed that two districts, one under the individual candidacy system and one under the party list, would be created outside Egypt to select six deputies and that all Egyptians, whether living inside or outside Egypt, are allowed to run in these two districts and that the winners will represent Egyptians living abroad.” SEC said “these two districts will be created to help Egyptians living abroad know the candidates and then vote on the basis of their campaign platforms.”

SEC’s proposal, however, was rejected by Omar Al-Sherif, deputy justice minister for legislative affairs, who insisted that it violates Article 113 of the constitution which states that MPs must represent all governorates of Egypt and that this does not apply to MPs who will be elected outside Egypt. When put to a vote, the proposed amendment was rejected by most deputies.

After the elimination of the six seats, Saleh explained that the number of the House’s deputies will be decreased to 546 seats, two-thirds of which will be elected on the basis of the party list system, while the remaining third will be elected on the basis of the individual candidacy system. Saleh, however, said “the final number of the coming House of Representatives will be determined at the very end of debates.”

Saleh said this was in line with Article 331 of the constitution which states that two-thirds of parliament seats must be elected under the party list system, while the remaining third is reserved for candidates running as independents, with the stipulation that half of the total elected deputies represent farmers and workers. Article 2 also states that “a farmer is someone who has been involved in agricultural activities over at least 10 years, while a worker is someone employed by others against payment of salary.”

According to Saleh, the council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee agreed that in line with the orders of the SCC, it was agreed that Article 3 strictly states that MPs who change their definition (from worker to farmer or vice versa) or their political affiliation, standing as independents, then joining a party or vice versa, must be stripped of their parliamentary membership.

Article 3 (Paragraph 4) was highly contentious. Islamist MPs objected to political parties being compelled to nominate a woman on the first half of their list of candidates. The article was amended to state that “each party-based list must include a female candidate.” This is short of compelling political parties to nominate a woman on the first half of their official list of candidates. Secular members of the Shura Council deplored that “Islamists were able to impose their say on the article and that this represents complete injustice for women.” Mohamed Mohieddin, a member of the liberal Ghad Party, said “placing women on the first half of party lists is guaranteed to boost the number of female MPs in the coming parliament to at least 27, compared with 30 in Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council.” In response, Salah Abdel-Maaboud, the representative of the ultraconservative Salafist Party, said “if secular political parties are really sincere about strengthening the political role of women, why shouldn’t they take the initiative and put female nominees on the first half of their list of candidates?”

Article 5 of the draft law created much controversy. The article, which prevents anyone who failed to enter military service for security reasons, from standing in the election, was rejected by the SCC while it was in the process of reviewing an overall election law passed last February. The SCC stated that the article must be formulated to go in line with the constitution. The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies objected, arguing that “those who failed to perform military service under the former Hosni Mubarak regime because they were arrested for security reasons must be allowed to stand in elections.” “It goes with the ideals of the 25 January Revolution that certain citizens who suffered from the repressive practices of the former regime and were arrested under arbitrary measures be allowed in an age of freedom to stand in elections,” argued Saleh.

Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, Article 5 detailing conditions for registration stated that “anyone who aims to stand in elections must have performed obligatory military service; or was exempted from performing it; or was excluded from performing it, unless this exclusion was based on a final court order and caused damage to public interest or tampered with state security in accordance with the law.”

Another controversial point is Article 13 of the law which was amended under the pressure of Islamists to lift a ban on using religious slogans during the parliamentary elections. On top of the conditions stipulated by this article, it was stated that candidates refrain from raising religious slogans during campaigns. It also imposed a ban on using places of worship for campaign purposes. Under pressure by Islamists led by Sobhi, the article was amended to state that  “candidates must uphold national unity, refrain from raising any slogans causing discrimination among citizens on the basis of religion, gender or race.”

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