Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1144, 18 - 24 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Legal requirements

The Supreme Constitutional Court must give a ruling on new laws governing parliamentary elections and the performance of Egypt’s House of Representatives within 45 days, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Two laws, one regulating the election of the House of Representatives, the second the exercise of political rights, were sent to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) on Sunday.

The two laws were approved by the Shura Council on 11 April after three days of debate.

According to Article 177 of the constitution, the SCC must first judge new political legislation constitutional before it can be promulgated by the president. The SCC has 45 days before it must give its ruling under Egypt’s new national charter.

If approved by the SCC, President Mohamed Morsi will be free to set a date for parliamentary elections. During his recent visit to Sudan Morsi said that “if the SCC approves the two laws without remarks the upcoming parliamentary elections will begin next October.”

The new House of Representatives law was approved in principle during a plenary Shura Council session on 26 March. It was then referred to the council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee which reviewed amendments proposed by MPs.

On 10 April MPs and government officials reached agreement on new electoral district boundaries, allowing the two pieces of new legislation to be approved on 11 April.

According to amended Article 1, the incoming House will include 546 MPs elected by secret ballot. A proposal by the Supreme Elections Committee (SEC) that six seats be added for Egyptians living abroad was rejected by MPs and the Justice Ministry.

According to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party’s Sobhi Saleh, a member of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, “after the elimination of the six seats [for expats], the number of House deputies will stand at 546. Two thirds will be elected on the basis of party, the remaining third via an individual candidacy system.” He added that half of all deputies will represent farmers and workers, in line with Article 331 of the constitution.

The 2005-2010 parliament returned 454 MPs. This rose to 518 after a 64-seat quota was established for female MPs in Egypt’s 2010 parliament.

Article 2 defines a farmer as someone involved in agricultural activities for at least 10 years, a worker as someone employed by others against payment of a salary.

According to Saleh, the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee agreed with the SCC’s instructions that Article 3 contains the provision that MPs who change their classification (from worker to farmer or vice versa) or their political affiliation (from independent to party affiliate, or vice versa) must be stripped of their seats.

Islamist MPs opposed any provision forcing parties to include female candidates in the first half of their lists. As a consequence Article 3 (Paragraph 4) was amended to state simply that “each party list must include at least one female candidate.”

Rami Lakah, an appointed Christian MP, expressed fears that “the number of women and Copts in the upcoming parliament will be insignificant. They will have been effectively marginalised.”

Mohamed Mohieddin, a member of the liberal Ghad Party, said that “placing women on the first half of parties’ candidate lists would have guaranteed at least 27 women MPs.”

Article 5 of the draft law also caused controversy. The SCC had demanded the article be formulated in line with the new constitution.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies had objected to the exclusion of candidates who failed to perform military service under the former regime for security reasons. They pressed for a final wording: “Anyone who aims to stand in elections must have performed obligatory military service or must have been 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 interests or tampered with state security in accordance with the law.”

Government representative Omar Al-Sherif warned that the text is likely to be rejected by the SCC.

The same article also bans some officials of Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) from standing in elections. In accordance with SCC rulings NDP MPs who were members of the last two Mubarak-era parliaments (2005 and 2010) will be barred from contesting the polls.

Article 13 of the law, amended under Islamist pressure to lift a longstanding ban on the use of religious electoral slogan, is also likely to cause controversy. Paragraph 2 of the article had stated that candidates must “uphold national unity” by refraining from using religious campaign slogans. It also banned the use of houses of worship for campaign purposes. Islamists, led by Sobhi, forced changes so that the article now states that “candidates must uphold national unity by refraining from using slogans that promote discrimination against citizens on the basis of religion, gender or race.” The amended text was questioned by Al-Sherif and rejected by Coptic Christian deputies, who argued that lifting the ban on religious slogans would inflame sectarian strife.

“Islamist MPs should have learned a lesson from recent sectarian clashes in Khosous and in Cairo and kept the ban on religious slogans,” said Kamal Ramzi, an appointed Coptic MP.

Islamist representatives also tried to raise MPs’ monthly salaries from LE1,000 to LE10,000. Saleh, however, objected to this, saying the proposed increase “would cost the state LE10 million per year, and this would be unsuitable given Egypt’s difficult economic circumstances”.

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