Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Rewarding incompetence

One consequence of the Shura Council failing for a second time to come up with a draft election law that is constitutional is that its members will retain control of legislation well into 2014, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

 

 

Following the Supreme Constitutional Court’s (SCC) 26 May ruling that 13 articles in two Shura Council-approved draft laws regulating polling are unconstitutional, the chance of parliamentary elections being held this year are increasingly slim. 

The legislation in question — amendments to the 1972 election law and the 1956 law on the exercise of political rights — were approved by the Islamist-led Shura Council on 11 April and referred to the SCC three days later. Had the SCC ruled them constitutional President Mohamed Morsi could have then set a date for the first parliamentary elections to be held since the promulgation of a new constitution.

Shura Council Chairman Ahmed Fahmi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), held a plenary session on 26 May to review the SCC’s findings. They were referred to the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee on the same day.

The SCC found four articles of the law regulating parliamentary elections and nine articles of the law on the exercise of political rights incompatible with the controversial constitution drafted by an Islamist dominated Constituent Assembly. The court based its rulings on articles 5, 6, 33, 55 and 64 of the constitution which enshrine the principle of citizenship.

“Stripping soldiers and police personnel of voting rights goes against the principle of citizenship,” said the court. “Even though legislation bans army and police personnel from joining political parties, this cannot be extended to prevent them from voting in general elections.”

Independent analysts, like Suez Canal University political science professor Gamal Zahran, view the SCC ruling as a potential game changer.

“The SCC’s ruling applies to parliamentary and presidential elections,” he said. “Soldiers and police personnel are estimated to number 2.5 million. Their votes could well be the determining factor in who becomes president. They will certainly redraw the political landscape.”

Zahran argues that while the votes of army and police officers may be less significant in parliamentary elections they will have a profound impact on the outcome of presidential elections. 

“A majority of police and army personnel feel antipathy towards Islamists and in any presidential election their votes could prevent Islamist candidates from winning.”

Zahran also predicts that the SCC’s ruling will ultimately be extended to judges. They, too, are currently denied the right to vote.

Newly-appointed Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Hatem Bagato, formerly a member of the SCC, told parliamentary correspondents that while he opposes police and army officers being granted voting rights “the constitution, passed last December, did not include restrictions on this right”. As a consequence, said Bagato, he will consult with the Shura Council over changing the two election laws so that they are in line with the constitution. “Once re-amended, these two laws must be referred back to the SCC for review,” said Bagato.

Islamist Shura Council members are agreed that the SCC ruling means parliamentary elections will have to be delayed to 2014. FJP member Sobhi Saleh, who sits on the Shura Council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said “we are keen to implement the SCC’s judgements but this will take time.”

“We do not object to army and police personnel voting in elections but given they are the ones tasked with safeguarding the integrity of polls some precautions will have to be taken,” says FJP Shura Council spokesman Essam Al-Erian.

Tarek Al-Sehari, the Nour Party’s deputy chairman of the Shura Council, says representatives of army and interior ministries will be invited to the Shura Council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee “to discuss how police and army personnel will be allowed to exercise their new right”.

He believes “the ruling entails revising voter lists completely to add the names of army and police people” and points out “this will take time and makes holding parliamentary election this year a distant hope.”

The SCC also ruled that the election law’s failure to proscribe religious slogans during election campaigns violated articles 5, 6, 9, 33 and 55 of the constitution. “It runs counter to the principle of national unity guaranteed by the constitution,” judged the court, “and places an obstacle before citizens seeking to elect candidates on objective grounds.”

The Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP had successfully pressed for the ban on religious slogans to be lifted during amendment debates.

“The SCC’s ruling on religious slogans is a positive development,” Coptic Shura Council appointee Mamdouh Ramzi told Al-Ahram Weekly. “It respects the principle of national unity and helps prevent religion being mixed with politics.” Ramzi accused the Brotherhood of using its majority on the Shura Council to tailor laws to its own agenda and bypass any national dialogue seeking consensus. “It is their modest legislative skills and immodest ideological bias that has delayed parliamentary elections,” he said.

The SCC also curtailed the right of the president to set the date of parliamentary elections, postpone their holding or cut the election timetable short.

“This violates articles 6, 55, 200, 208 and 228 of the constitution,” ruled the court. “These articles give the Supreme Elections Commission absolute authority over such decisions... The president, in his capacity as head of the executive authority, cannot have a hand in them.”

The SCC also ruled that “citizens who failed to perform military duty for security reasons cannot be allowed to stand in elections.”

Muslim Brotherhood Shura Council deputies had pressed for the draft to exclude candidates who had failed to perform military service on security grounds only if a final court ruling had been issued against them.

The SCC underlined that the Shura Council’s revisions of electoral boundaries had once again failed to ensure a fair representation of citizens in parliament.

“The constitution clearly states that the election law must guarantee electoral districts ensure a fair representation of citizens in parliament,” said the SCC in its report on the ruling. “Yet the boundaries of electoral districts in Alexandria, Damietta, Sharqiya, Ismailia, Sohag, Minya, Aswan, Sohag and Luxor have been set without due account being taken of population size and thus fail to guarantee equal representation of citizens in parliament.”

The Shura Council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee had tried its best to consult with the ministries of interior and administrative development to ensure that electoral districts were equitable, claimed the FJP’s Saleh. Now, though, he said, “the matter will require greater efforts and time to ensure that population in different governorates are fairly represented in parliament.”

 

 

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