Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1206, (17-23 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Parliamentary woes

The House of Representatives’ elections will be held in a legislative environment that parties say is hostile to a multi-party system. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The seven-member judicial Supreme Elections Commission (SEC) is set to meet next week to begin preparations for parliamentary polls. On Tuesday President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi asked the SEC to begin the procedures necessary for parliamentary polls to be held.

Al-Sisi’s decree and the SEC meeting represent the beginning of the third — and final — stage of the political roadmap adopted following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi. The first two stages were the drafting and ratification of a new constitution and the holding of presidential elections.

Article 7 of the new political rights law mandates the SEC to supervise parliamentary polls from A to Z. In the past the president enjoyed sweeping powers which were regularly used to manipulate the polls.

Article 4 of the new political rights law states the SEC must be headed by the chairman of Cairo’s Appeal Court and include the two most senior deputies of the chairman of the Court of Cassation; the two most senior deputies of the chairman of the State Council (administrative courts) and the chairmen of Alexandria’s and Tanta’s Appeal Courts.

On 1 July the make-up of the SEC was finalised when Ayman Abbas was appointed chairman of Cairo Appeal Court. He replaces Nabil Salib who led the SEC in supervising January’s referendum on the new constitution but reached retirement age on 30 June.

The representatives of the Court of Cassation are Anwar Mohamed Al-Gabri and Ahmed Gamaleddin; the State Council representatives are Gamal Nada and Mohamed Qishta and the current chairmen of Alexandria and Tanta Appeal Courts are Magdi Demian and Helmi Massoud.

The SEC is not expected to set dates for registration or voting in next week’s meeting. Judicial sources say the session will be devoted to procedural matters, including the formation of a secretariat-general and the appointment of a spokesperson.

Commentators expect parliamentary polls to begin by the end of October or early November and anticipate the three-stage vote will take a month to complete.

After Hosni Mubarak was removed in a popular uprising in January 2011 it took more than twelve months to hold elections. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces swept the poll but the Islamist-led parliament was dissolved within six months, after the Supreme Constitutional Court (SEC) ruled that the law governing the elections was discriminatory.

Egypt’s new constitution abolished the 40-year-old Shura Council, which acted as a second parliamentary chamber, renamed the People’s assembly the House of Representatives and raised the number of seats from 508 to 567. Article one of the new House law specifies that 75 per cent of the seats (420) be elected via the individual candidacy system, reserving just 20 per cent (120) for party-based candidates. The remaining 27 members will be appointed by the president.

The majority of Egypt’s political factions claim the legislative framework hampers the emergence of a representative house.

“The new House law is one of the worst I have even seen,” says Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Al-Chobaki, a member of the committee that drafted the new constitution.

“The law violates the spirit of the new constitution which sought to strengthen the role of political parties in charting the future of Egypt,” says Al-Chobaki.

Political parties submitted a memorandum to President Al-Sisi two weeks ago, urging him to reduce the number of seats allocated to independent candidates from 75 to 50 per cent and to allow proportional, rather than closed party, lists, says Al-Chobaki.

“Under the closed system, a list must win 50 per cent of votes per district for its candidates to join parliament. A list could garner the support of 49 per cent of the voters in a given district and still not return a single MP,” points out Al-Chobaki, while a proportional list would allow a direct correlation between seat numbers and votes won.

Political analysts agree that weighing seat numbers so heavily in favour of independent candidates threatens a return of the business cronies that dominated Mubarak’s NDP. Their fears were compounded on Monday when the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters overturned an earlier ruling stripping former NDP leading officials from exercising their political rights, including the right of standing in elections. “As long as these officials have not been convicted of any crimes they must be allowed to freely exercise their political rights,” the Court said.

Al-Chobaki hopes Al-Sisi will meet with political forces to explain why he has refused to respond to their demands.

“President Al-Sisi has to take into account that if the next parliament is dominated by the diehards of the Mubarak’s regime, or lacks representatives of the January Revolution, it will be a political setback for his regime,” argues Al-Chobaki.

In a meeting with media figures last week Al-Sisi said citizens must be careful in choosing their parliamentary deputies but made no mention of any possible amendments to the new House Law.

Political analysts also complain that a new law redrawing electoral districts has yet to be issued. Electoral boundaries have yet to be changes, or the districts confined to competition among party lists and those reserved for independents named.

“The delay,” says Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, Chairman of the Reform and Development Party, “leaves those aiming to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections in limbo, unable to begin preparing for the polls.”

“The law should have been issued at least a month ago to allow political parties to decide on the best candidates for each district. Even after it is announced, the law will have to be subject to a public debate. This means yet more delays for political parties.”

Article 4 of the new House Law stipulates that party-based candidates will be free to contest just four districts. Two districts will elect 30 deputies (or 15 per district), the remaining two will return 90 deputies, or 45 per district.

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