Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Clock ticks for parliamentary poll

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s announcement that preparations for parliamentary elections must begin before 18 July places political parties on the alert. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry that procedures for the coming parliamentary elections will  begin before 18 July.

On Sunday Presidential Spokesman Ihab Badawi stressed that this was in line with article 230 of the constitution which stipulates parliamentary polls must begin within six months of the passing of the national charter. The new constitution was passed by referendum on 18 January.

Parliamentary elections are the third — and last — step in the political roadmap adopted following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi.

“The first two parts of the post-30 June roadmap - writing of a new constitution and electing a president – have been completed. The election of a new parliament will complete Egypt’s new legal structure, allowing the new constitution’s articles on freedoms and rights to be embedded in legislation,” said Badawi.

Al-Sisi’s announcement, say commentators, means an end to political parties’ hopes that controversial laws regulating the parliamentary election and the exercise of political rights will be amended. “There is no chance the two laws, ratified by outgoing president Adli Mansour, will be changed,” says Gamal Zahran, professor of political science at Suez Canal University. “There is less than a month for preparations to begin, far too little time for any legislative amendments.”

Though Al-Sisi is legally entitled to amend either of the two laws after the 18 July deadline Zahran does not believe the president will intervene.

The House of Representatives Law stipulates a 567 member parliament. The majority of seats, 420, will be reserved for independent candidates. Party-based candidates will compete for just 120, with the remaining 27 seats going to presidential appointees.

 “In June 2012 the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the Islamist-dominated parliament be dissolved because, by reserving two thirds of seats for party-based candidates, the election law discriminated against independents. Now we have a law that reserves the quotas, granting independent candidates two thirds of the seats and parties just one third. One is left wondering why this is not deemed discriminatory against political parties,” says Zahran.

The laws were revised by the State Council’s Legislative Department three weeks ago.

The few seats that are available to party candidates will be contested under a closed list, rather than proportional, system, reducing the vote to a first past the post race, meaning in theory at least, that a party might secure 49 per cent of the vote across all electoral districts and not win a single seat.

Several political groupings, led by presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, say they will petition Al-Sisi to amend the two laws and, if they fail, will consider boycotting the elections. It is a threat, says Zahran, that rings hollow.

“The majority of political forces realise that boycotting could leave them stranded in the political wilderness for years.”

The Constitution (Dostour) Party, the Socialist  Popular Alliance, the Popular Current,  Karama and the Egypt for Freedom and Justice Movement all oppose the election law.

Yet Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, Chairman of the Socialist Popular Alliance, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “boycott is no longer part of the vocabulary of  leftist and liberal groups”.

“All we can do is wait on Al-Sisi’s final word. And if the two laws are not amended we will have to prepare for the elections as one bloc, or in alliance with other blocs.”

Reserving 75 per cent of seats for so-called independent candidates will set back the emergence of a multi-party democracy, says Shukr. “Competing for these seats requires a lot of money, tribal and familial connections, things Egypt’s new political parties clearly lack.”

The law, argues Shukr, will reduce parliamentary elections to a contest between by five political blocs. “One is led by the liberal Wafd Party; another by former foreign minister Amr Moussa; there are the diehards of Mubarak’s defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), the remnants of political Islam and leftist and new revolutionary forces led by Hamdeen Sabahi.”

There are signs that attempts to consolidate blocs ahead of the elections are struggling. Moussa’s bid to bring forces from different ideological backgrounds under one banner appears to be fizzling out. Both Sabahi and the Wafd Party have refused to join an alliance including NDP remnants. And according to Shukr, suspicion is rife that the real purpose of the alliance is to ensure that Moussa becomes the new parliamentary speaker.

Moussa denies his proposed alliance is struggling, insisting his “attempts will gain momentum once preparations for the polls begin”.

The Wafd Party is facing internal divisions over its election strategy. Senior party members are divided over whether they should go it alone or enter into an alliance with other parties. Likely candidates include Anwar Al-Sadat’s Liberal and Development Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party led by Mohamed Abul-Ghar, the Conservative Party led by businessman Akmal Qortam; and the Awareness Party led by Mahmoud Taher.

According to article 228 of the new constitution the parliamentary elections will be supervised by a five-member judicial body — the Supreme Election Commission (SEC) — headed by the chairman of Cairo Appeals Court. Article seven of the new law on exercise of political rights allows the SEC to select the date and timetable of elections, a prerogative previously held by the president.

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