Salah Fawzi, a professor of constitutional law at the Mansoura University and a member of the government’s Legislative Reform Committee, told reporters on 25 April that changes are afoot to Law 40/1977 regulating political parties and to Law 46/2014 governing election to the House of Representatives.
“The 2018 presidential election made it crystal clear no existing political party is strong enough to field a presidential candidate,” said Fawzi.
“Amendments being proposed to political laws will seek to energise political life by strengthening political parties and helping them field credible presidential candidates by 2022 and beyond.”
Fawzi says changes to the first law will focus on the conditions stipulated for the licensing of political parties. “It is being suggested that if a party has 10 seats in parliament but then drops to below that number in a new parliament then its licence will be withdrawn.”
Fawzi argues that setting such a condition will help ensure only strong political parties remain. “It will really be a matter of life and death. Only parties capable of winning a minimum of 10 parliamentary seats will survive.”
Once the minimum seat requirement is adopted it will encourage weaker parties to merge or join stronger political forces with similar ideological underpinnings.
Political analyst Nabil Abdel-Fattah says the change will be significant.
“It will push political parties in the direction of mergers. The Wafd and Free Egyptians parties for instance, which have 101 MPs between them, could join forces to become a major liberal economic force. The five left leaning political parties — the Tagammu, Nasserists, the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, the Free Egyptian Edifice and the Guardians of the Revolution — which won just nine seats in the 2015 parliamentary election could similarly merge to present a united front.”
“The hope is two major political parties will emerge, one in government, the other in opposition, rather like the Democrats and Republicans in the US or the Labour and Conservatives parties in the UK.”
“This will be a healthy formula that will create a vibrant parliamentary life and promote the peaceful rotation of power.”
During the March presidential election President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi noted in a TV interview that Egypt has more than 100 political parties that seem to offer nothing to the electorate.
“They are not yet strong or influential enough to field a presidential candidate, but I am sure that in time these political parties will grow,” said Al-Sisi. He urged political parties with similar platforms to merge into stronger competitive units.
According to Fawzi, it is also being suggested that to be licensed a party must maintain an office in each of Egypt’s 27 governorates.
“Only well-resourced parties will be capable of doing this. Currently some licensed parties have just a handful of offices for the entire country. That is a situation we need to end.”
Proposals that political parties should also be able to show they have members from each of the 27 governorates are also being considered.
“The current law states that a party must have at least 5,000 members but does not stipulate any geographic distribution,” says Fawzi, meaning in practice all the members could hail from the same village.
In amending the law regulating the House of Representatives Law, Fawzi says attention is being focused on Article 6.
“Changes have become pressing after the parliamentary majority Support Egypt coalition announced in a meeting last week that it is seeking to turn itself into a licensed political party,” said Fawzi.
“There is no constitutional obstacle to Support Egypt doing this. The only hurdle is Article 6 which states that elected MPs cannot change their political designation once elected.”
“Independent MPs would lose their parliamentary membership if they decided to join a political party following their election. The same would be true if an MP elected on a party ticket suddenly became an independent.”
Fawzi points out that Article 386 of parliament’s internal bylaws imposes the same stipulation.
“If an elected MP changes his/her political designation in parliament the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee would meet to write a report and recommend that the MP be expelled,” says Fawzi.
Experts are therefore reviewing changes to both Article 6 of the House’s election law and Article 386 of parliament’s internal bylaws.
“The stipulation concerning political designation in both articles will likely be removed to allow elected MPs to switch alliances in a flexible way and without losing parliamentary membership.”
“While amending Article 6 will be a relatively straightforward process, changing Article 386 will need parliament’s political bureau or at least 50 MPs to make a request which must then be supported by at least two thirds of sitting MPs.”
“Once this is done,” says Fawzi, “the path will be clear for Support Egypt to become a licensed political party and for other political parties to merge into stronger entities.”
Political analyst and constitutional lawyer Shawki Al-Sayed is less sanguine about the amendments being considered.
“What Article 6 requires MPs to do is respect the will of those who voted, many of whom will have based their choices on the candidates’ political designation rather than personal character or qualifications.”
“Changing allegiances once elected to parliament insults the choice of voters,” Al-Sayed told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“The best way to energise political life would be to allow political parties greater freedom to convene general assemblies, allocate them far more media coverage, and place no obstacles in the path of them recruiting younger members.”
“Legislative amendments that turn majority parliamentary blocs into ruling parties have been tried repeatedly since 1952 and they have always proved futile.
It would be far better to lift the plethora of restrictions on political activities in general if what we really want is to promote a culture of Western-style liberal democracy.”
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly