After a long, six-month wait, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi eliminated the last obstacle standing in the way of the country's parliamentary polls. On Monday, El-Sisi ratified a new electoral constituencies law, a step yielding the beginning of the long-delayed parliamentary polls process.
Parliamentary elections are the third and final component of the political roadmap adopted following the ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013, as a new constitution was approved by referendum in January 2014 and presidential elections were held in May.
In a meeting with parliamentary reporters this week, Minister of Transitional Justice and House of Representatives Ibrahim El-Heneidy indicated that El-Sisi ratified the constituencies law before he left for China on Sunday.
"Right now, the law is in its final form but it still has to be published in the state's official gazette in to be formally effective," said El-Heneidy, expecting that this will be done on Tuesday or Wednesday.
El-Heneidy explained that once the law is promulgated, the Higher Elections Committee (HEC) – a seven-member judicial body mandated with supervising the polls – will meet to set dates for registration and the vote. According to El-Heneidy, "El-Sisi's ratification of the law has put an end to the president's role in this respect, while the next stage will be completely the responsibility of HEC which has to meet to announce the poll's final procedures."
He refused to guess when exactly registration for the polls will begin. "This is the responsibility of the HEC but I think it will begin in January and last for ten days," said El-Heneidy.
El-Heneidy also said the HEC may decide to hold the polls over three or four stages, with each stage including a number of governorates. This means that polls may last anywhere between one and two months.
For his part, HEC's spokesperson, judge Medhat Idris said Monday night that the committee will hold a meeting very soon to announce a timetable for the polls.
"This will include setting dates for registration, campaigning, appeals and stages of the vote," said Idris, also explaining that "once HEC sets a date for registration and the vote, the door for any change in voter lists will be closed.”
HEC is headed by chairman of Cairo's Appeal Court Ayman Abbas.
According to Rifaat Qomsan, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab's advisor for political affairs, the number of citizens eligible to vote in the coming parliamentary polls in 2015 stands at 54.8 million. "This is out of a total number of population that stands at 87.8 million," said Qomsan.
"Parliamentary polls, like presidential polls last May, will be heavily guarded by security and army forces and I think they will be a big success," said Qomsan.
For their part, political parties said El-Sisi's ratification of the constituencies law has actually shifted parliamentary polls into high gear.
Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development party, told Ahram Online that the coming parliamentary polls in Egypt will be unique:
"I mean that not a single party will be able to compete alone in these polls," said Sadat, arguing that "after the new constitution and the house of representatives law were passed, political parties came to realise that they must join forces in electoral blocs to be able to gain a good foothold in the coming parliament.”
El-Sadat believes that most of the electoral alliances that have so far been formed have already prepared their party-based lists of candidates.
Sadat's Reform and Development party is a member of an electoral coalition led by the liberal Wafd party.
Hossam El-Khouli, a spokesperson for the Wafd party, also told Ahram Online that the Wafd-led coalition will field candidates in almost all constituencies. "We have been working for months to prepare the lists of candidates and we hope we will be able to gain a considerable number of seats in parliament," said El-Khouli.
Another coalition, led by remnants of former president Hosni Mubarak's defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), has also announced that it will field candidates in all districts. Mostafa Bakri, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Front electoral coalition, including a lot of former Mubarak's officials, said the Front will have its own lists of candidates. "But we will also be in coordination with Kamal El-Ganzouri – former Mubarak-era prime minister – in terms of fielding lists of party-based candidates," said Bakri.
Three political parties have withdrawn from the Egyptian Front's electoral coalition as of late: the leftist Tagammu party, the liberal Congress party, and the Ghad (Tomorrow) party. Salah Hassaballah, a leading official of the Congress party, said they decided to withdraw from the Front after they found out that former Mubarak's NDP officials swept the lists.
Sayed Abdel-Al, chairperson of Tagammu, also said on Tuesday that they decided to withdraw after the Front prioritised its coordination with El-Ganzouri at the expense of his party and the Congress and Ghad parties.
Revolutionary parties that came into being in the wake of the 25 January and 30 June revolutions announced last October that they would stand together as the Democratic Alliance. George Ishak, a leading official of this progressive alliance, announced on Sunday that the Alliance is coordinating with Abdel-Gelil Mostafa, a former coordinator of the revolutionary anti-Mubarak Kefaya Movement, on a unified lists of party-based and independent candidates. Ishak appealed to all revolutionary forces to unite against the onslaught of Mubarak's NDP symbols and other parties that used a political cover for the Mubarak regime.
Political analysts agree that political parties have resorted to forming electoral alliances out of recognition that no single party alone can achieve good results in the polls.
"With the Muslim Brotherhood banned and designated a terrorist organization and Mubarak's NDP dissolved by the court, these political parties have found themselves face to face with the challenge of securing a majority in parliament," said Gamal Zahran, a professor of political science with Suez Canal university and a former independent MP.
According to Zahran, himself a leader of the so-called Social Justice coalition, "the coming polls will involve four main competing forces: the liberal Wafd and other old guard political parties, the Mubarak regime's diehards (either member of the Egyptian Front or independents), revolutionary forces that are antagonistic to both Muslim Brotherhood and the Mubarak regimes, and remnants of Islamist forces, particularly the ultraconservative Salafist Nour party."
Zahran is sure that no single coalition will be able to gain a majority in the coming parliament. "But my hope is that the Mubarak diehards and Islamists will be marginalised in favor of a secular majority that can form the first post-constitution elected government," said Zahran.
Conversely, Zahran argued that " if the opposite took place, I mean if Mubarak's NDP diehards – including wealthy businessmen that were close to his son and heir apparent Gamal – were able to dominate parliament again, it would be a catastrophe for the country's political future."