Tuesday,20 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013
Tuesday,20 November, 2018
Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Shura Council to tackle key political laws

The Islamist-dominated Shura Council, which has recently assumed legislative power, will have a busy agenda

On 29 December, three days after the swearing in of 90 presidential appointees, the Shura Council gathered to listen to a speech by President Mohamed Morsi, reports Gamal Essam El-Din.

Under Article 230 of the newly-approved constitution the Shura Council assumes legislative power until a new House of Representatives (formerly known as the People’s Assembly) is elected.

In his speech before the council President Mohamed Morsi made it clear that not only will the Islamist-dominated Shura Council take charge of drawing up Egypt’s legislative map but will also select the chairmen of a host of nominally independent supervisory institutions.

Morsi indicated that a draft law regulating upcoming parliamentary elections will be a top priority on the council’s legislative agenda.

“There must be a national dialogue on amendments to this law so that they meet with the satisfaction of all political parties and ensure the House of Representatives expresses the will of the people,” said Morsi.

Before his resignation last week Mahmoud Mekki, Morsi’s vice president, had been holding consultations with political forces on amendments to the parliamentary election law. The dialogue was boycotted by the National Salvation Front, a secular coalition led by Mohamed Al-Baradei. Although the front said it had no confidence in the consultations leading the adoption of any suggestions it would forward proposed amendments of the election law to the Shura Council.

“We will wait to see how this Islamist-dominated council responds to our proposals,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, a leading member of the front. “The reaction of the Shura Council to our proposals will determine whether or not we will participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections or not.”

Chairman of the Shura Council Ahmed Fahmi vowed that all draft legislation will be put to a “national dialogue” before being passed by the council.

“We hope that the Shura Council becomes a forum for national consensus and free constructive debate,” he said.

No sooner had Morsi ended his speech on 29 December than the council’s General Committee (including Fahmi, his two deputies, and the chairmen of 13 sub-committees) held a meeting to discuss the legislative agenda. The committee then issued a statement saying “the amendments of 1956’s law on exercise of political rights — known as the election law — will be the council’s top priority”.

“Amendments to the 1956 political rights law should be finalised by the council this week,” says Younis Makhyoun, a member of the Islamist Salafist Party.

The deadline for political parties to submit their proposals for changes to the law was 29 December.

“Once any amendments are approved by the council — most probably this week — they will be sent to President Morsi to be ratified,” said Makhyoun. “Once ratified, President Morsi will issue a decree setting the date of elections to the House of Representatives.”

Article 231 of the new constitution states: “Two thirds of seats of the House of Representatives will be elected under the party-based list system, one third by individual candidacy.” It is the same formula that was used in the last People’s Assembly elections. When party-affiliated candidates ran in seats reserved for independent candidates the system was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), leading to the People’s Assembly being dissolved. Under Article 177 of the new constitution, amendments to laws regulating parliamentary and presidential elections must be first approved by the SCC before being enacted into law.

Article 228 of the new constitution retains the Judicial Electoral Commission which oversees parliamentary elections.

Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, speaking for the National Salvation Front’s Legislative Committee, revealed that the front has submitted 94 changes to the 1956 law, including a proposal that the Judicial Electoral Commission adopt internationally-accepted standards required for ensuring the integrity of elections.

“One of these is that judges in charge of the commission cannot be members of other executive bodies so as to minimise the possibility of bias,” said Shukr. “The commission must also update voter lists, redraw electoral districts, and act to exclude the executive authorities from any supervision of the polls.”

The front has argued it is necessary a special police force be formed and placed at the disposal of the commission to safeguard judges from attack and prevent common vote rigging practices.

The front suggests stiffer penalties for election fraud and the empowering of human rights organisations to file lawsuits against officials suspected of vote rigging. It is also seeking a ban on the raising of religious slogans during campaigns and on places of worship being used for electioneering purposes. 

“Candidates found guilty of these practices must be excluded from the parliamentary race and face fines of up to LE50,000,” says the front.

“We want the election law be amended to state that judges supervise the vote count, announce the results in auxiliary polling stations and provide a signed copy of the count, station by station, to candidates’ representatives, as happened in last summer’s presidential election,” says Mahmoud Amer, secretary-general of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) — the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Shura Council is also expected to discuss legislation stripping leading officials of Mubarak’s defunct National Democratic Party of standing in elections for 10 years as well as changes to the way the SCC operates.

The council faced a wave of protests this week after its Human Rights Committee disclosed that a law — thought to be drafted by the Interior Ministry — restricting the right to protest and to strike, would soon be discussed. The 26-article law gives the Interior Ministry powers to ban peaceful protests, labour strikes, sit-ins and public gatherings.

Under the draft law the organisers of street protests or public meetings must inform the Interior Ministry of the location and timing at least three days ahead of any gathering. The law grants police forces the right to ban such protests or public gatherings if they “pose a danger to public order”. The law also states that “if public gatherings include speeches instigating sedition, the police will be allowed to disperse such gatherings”.

The police will be allowed to attend any meeting of protest organisers. Under the proposed law any protest will be restricted to between 7am and 7pm. In addition the police will have an automatic right to search protesters, and will be mandated to use or tear gas, water cannons and electric bludgeons to disperse any gathering they deem a threat to public order. In some cases it seeks to place a limit of one third of the employees of given institutions who can legally strike,  baldly stating “this is necessary so as not to cause disruption to the institution’s business or production lines.”

Human rights organisations united in condemning the proposed legislation, accusing Islamists — led by the Muslim Brotherhood — on the Shura Council of using their majority to limit freedom of speech and public liberties.

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