The Higher Election Committee (HEC) – a seven-member judicial body mandated with supervising Egypt's parliamentary polls – took new measures Monday aimed at paving the way for the long-awaited polls.
After a meeting led by chairperson of Cairo's appeals court, Ayman Abbas, sources within the HEC said that it has finalised the guidelines which will be adopted by affiliated judicial mini-committees formed to represent it in each of Egypt's 27 governorates.
HEC's spokesperson Medhat Idris indicated that each mini-committee will be headed by chairperson of the governorate's lower court and include judges from the appeal and administrative courts and the State Cases and the Administrative Prosecution Authorities.
"These committees will receive registration applications from hopeful candidates, review voter lists and supervise polling stations," said Idris.
In terms of supervision, chairperson of each mini-committee will be required to head to the headquarters of their local court one day in advance of the voting date to take hold of the ballot tickets.
"On voting day, the chief judge will take charge of transporting boxes of the ballot tickets from the court to the polling station in the early morning to make sure that the station is completely ready before the voting begins," said Idris.
Elaborating on the above, the HEC sources stressed that chairpersonn of each mini-committee must make sure that adequate police or army forces are available to safeguard the polling station, that assistant personnel are present, the lists of eligible voters are provided and that the number of the ballot tickets are equal to the number of eligible voters.
HEC sources on Monday also indicated that judges in charge of mini-committees must instruct security forces that campaigning outside the polling stations is banned and that voters must be heavily inspected to ensure that weapons will not find their way into polling stations.
The HEC sources said female guards will be also available to help inspect women wearing Niqab – or full-face cover – and make sure that they hold their identity cards.
"In general, each voter must show his/her identity card or travel passport and puts his/her thumb in red ink as a sign that he/she has already voted and will not be allowed to vote again," said HEC sources.
Idris said handicapped citizens, including blind voters, could ask the chairperson of their mini-committee to vote on their behalf or be accompanied by them in the voting booth.
HEC's meeting on Monday is the second in two weeks. In a statement last week, HEC said it has already reviewed voter lists and asked citizens to log-on to HEC's website to check that their names and voting centres are correct.
The HEC meeting comes after Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab vowed last week that the long-awaited electoral districts law, the last obstacle before parliamentary polls can be held, will be issued by a technical committee on 10 November – or Monday next week.
Before leaving for Geneva on Sunday to attend a periodic review of Egypt's human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council, parliamentary affairs minister Ibrahim El-Heneidy told reporters that the draft of the electoral districts law was almost complete.
"The technical committee in charge of finalising this law is currently just focused on making sure that the new legislation is in line with the constitution, which requires that boundaries are redrawn in a way that strikes a balance between the area and population of constituencies," said El-Heneidy, adding that "this, however, does not mean that all constituencies must be strictly equal in number of population and size."
"It will be almost impossible to achieve this kind of strict equality but there will be slight differences in number of population and size in a way that does not impact equality," said El-Heneidy.
El-Heneidy also assured that the technical committee gives special focus to border governorates, especially North Sinai where a three-month state of emergency and a 10-hour curfew have been imposed.
"The committee will take the new situation there into consideration while resorting to merging some border districts with scant population into larger districts."
El-Heneidy also explained that once finalised, the law would be a subject of a national dialogue among political forces for two or three weeks.
El-Heneidy's statement means that HEC will not be able to set a timetable for parliamentary polls before early December. This also means that the first stage of parliamentary polls will most likely be held in early January 2015 – as Mahlab promised.
Parliamentary polls are expected to be held over three stages, with each including nine governorates.
Each stage takes at least two weeks to be completed. It could take longer if security threats cause a problem. In any case, a three-stage parliamentary election in Egypt usually takes two and a half months to three months to be completed. Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development party, told Ahram Online that if Mahlab and El-Heneidy made good on their word, Egypt would see a new parliament convene next March or April.
"But if the government and HEC insist on moving at the current snail pace, Egypt would see a new parliament only in May or even June next year," said Sadat.
Egypt's last parliamentary polls – held between 12 October, 2011 and 22 January, 2012 – took almost three and a half months to be completed.
Mahlab asked three weeks ago that a seven-member technical committee be formed to finalise the controversial electoral districts law amid speculation among political forces over whether parliamentary polls will be held later this year or postponed to next year. Mahlab was cited by MENA on 31 October as emphasising that the finalisation of the electoral districts law on 10 November will automatically allow HEC to meet and devise a timeline for the upcoming parliamentary poll as soon as possible.
MENA cited Mahlab as saying that he is in almost daily contact with the law-drafting committee.
"The committee has come a long way in finalising this law while I am under instructions from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi that parliamentary polls must be held as soon as possible," said Mahlab.
Mahlab also told journalist Mostafa Bakri in a television interview on 31 October that El-Sisi rejected several calls for delaying the polls or postponing them to late next year.
"Some cited security and technical reasons but president El-Sisi rejected them all," said Mahlab.
Mahlab admitted that the drafting of the electoral districts law took a lot of time, a fact which led to delaying the election procedures which were expected to begin last month. "We want to make sure that this law goes in line with the new constitution and that once held, parliamentary polls will not face any legal or constitutional setbacks," said Mahlab.
Mahlab, however, expects that the first stage for parliamentary polls begins early next year.
"The first stage of these polls must begin early next year or before a donors conference will be held next February to help Egypt's economy," said Mahlab, arguing that "we want to send a message to the world before this conference that Egypt shows no hesitance from completing its political roadmap which was adopted in July 2013 – or after former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted from office.