Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The countdown has begun

Preparations for Egypt’s parliamentary polls are underway, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) — the seven-member judicial committee in charge of overseeing Egypt’s forthcoming parliamentary polls —  held a series of  meetings following the decree issued by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on 15 June requesting it to begin preparations for the election.

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

As per article 4 of the new political rights law, the SEC is headed by judge Ayman Abbas, chairman of Cairo’s Appeals Court. It includes the two most senior deputies of the Court of Cassation, Ayman Mohamed Al-Gabri and Ahmed Gamaleddin; the two most senior deputies of the State Council, Mohamed Qishta and Gamal Nada and the current Chairmen of Alexandria and Tanta’s Appeals Courts Magdi Demian and Helmi Massoud.

The SEC’s first meetings were purely procedural. Abbas said the commission had begun forming a secretariat-general, had met with judicial authorities and concerned ministries and would announce the name of the secretary-general as soon as possible. The SEC is also coordinating with the Ministry of Administrative Development to launch a website at www.elections.eg.

The SEC named Judge Medhat Idris as its media spokesman.

In a separate meeting the SEC agreed to review voter lists and ensure they are updated ahead of the polls.

“We hope to make lists available to all citizens as early as possible so they will know where their voting stations are and how they can vote,” said Idris.

On 17 June Abbas met with Hamdi Sanad, the deputy foreign minister for African affairs, Ali Ashiri, the deputy foreign minister for consular affairs and Major General Mohamed Rifaat Qomsan, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s advisor on election affairs, to discuss ways to encourage more Egyptians living abroad to vote in parliamentary polls.  In May’s presidential election 320,000 Egyptian expats voted. Idris said the SEC hopes more voting facilities will see an increase in this number to half a million.

Idris said the Foreign Ministry had agreed to act to encourage greater participation and to ensure the polls are marked with integrity.

In future meetings the SEC will review the two laws regulating parliamentary elections — the House of Representatives law and the Exercise of Political Rights law.

“Stipulations governing registration, campaigning and voting in the House of Representatives law will be reviewed,” said Idris, as well as articles in the Exercise of Political Rights law dealing with voter lists and the categories of citizens banned from standing in elections.

The Political Rights law mandates the SEC to supervise parliamentary polls from A to Z. “In the past the president of the republic had the upper hand in setting polling dates and the rules governing the vote. The new constitution gives SEC absolute powers to ensure that executive authorities cannot interfere in the polls,” said Idris. “The law makes it binding on the government and state authorities to implement SEC orders and  provide the SEC with all necessary support.”

Egypt’s new parliament — the House of Representatives — will comprise 567 deputies. The new house law specifies that 75 per cent of seats (420) will be elected via the individual candidacy system, with just 20 per cent (120) reserved for party-based candidates. The remaining five per cent (27 seats) will be appointed by the president.

Political parties have complained that preparations for parliamentary polls are beginning before a law redrawing electoral districts is issued. They warn the anomaly could see the poll delayed from November to January.

Abbas also met with Mario David, chairman of the European Union Mission in Egypt, to discuss the possibility of EU monitoring of the poll. Idris said Abbas stressed in the meeting that the SEC was keen that the vote be transparent and to achieve this “would allow high-profile local and international civil society organizations to monitor the election”.

The EU mission that monitored May’s presidential poll upset official circles in Cairo when it noted that the election environment was restrictive and lacked competitiveness. Some political factions called last week for the EU to be barred from observing any future elections in Egypt. Nabil Diibis, chairman of the Modern Egypt party, accused the EU of giving itself the right “to interfere with internal political issues” rather than restrict itself to monitoring the poll.

The EU’s final report on the presidential elections was completed this week. “The EU submitted its report to the SEC’s chairman on Monday,” said Idris. “The SEC has promised to review the report, but also stressed that the EU’s role was confined to following the voting process and giving advice and support to the concerned authorities.”

Broader guarantees of the right to vote and be elected, greater participation of women to foster gender equality, ensuring the legal framework is in harmony with the constitution and the relevant laws are implemented without bias were among the recommendations contained in the final report by the European Union Election Observation Mission.

The report offers a comprehensive assessment of all aspects of the May 2014 presidential election despite administrative issues with observers’ equipment which were eventually resolved with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The report includes a number of recommendations offered for consideration to national stakeholders, first and foremost by the authorities, to conduct future elections that fully meet international standards for democratic elections.

Among the recommendations which could be implemented without amending current legislation are: to ensure the right to vote for persons turning 18 before or on election day, persons in detention awaiting trial and persons with physical disabilities through making polling stations more accessible; to further enhance the secrecy of the ballot by issuing detailed guidelines on the layout of polling stations and advising voters how to handle the ballots. Also to enhance transparency of voter registration by timely publication of detailed preliminary and final information on the updating process.

David said the EU never meddles in the internal affairs of any country, and indicated that the Egyptian authorities had provided help to ensure that the EU could do its job smoothly.

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