Egypt's Supreme Presidential Elections Commission (SPEC) on Monday announced its intention to indefinitely suspend all its activities and postpone meetings scheduled for Tuesday with presidential candidates and media personnel.
According to SPEC Secretary-General Hatem Bagato, the decision came in response to what the commission sees as parliamentary encroachment on its affairs, following a Monday session of the People's Assembly (the lower house of Egypt's parliament) in which several proposed amendments to Egypt's presidential elections law were preliminarily approved by MPs in attendance.
SPEC President Farouk Sultan told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website, on Tuesday, that the commission had called on Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), as the country's de facto ruler, to intervene in the crisis to ensure the clear division of power between various state authorities, which, he said, parliament had clearly violated.
He added that parliament's preliminary approval on Monday of amendments to the presidential elections law represented a "clear infringement" on the SPEC's jurisdiction. Therefore, he said, any decision taken by the commission on the issue would likely result in a "national crisis" – including the possible postponement of presidential elections slated for later this month. It is therefore essential, Sultan added, that the SCAF intervene so as to ensure that "state interests aren't harmed."
The amendments preliminarily adopted in Monday's parliamentary session aim to do away with the "silent period" for electoral campaigning, essentially allowing presidential candidates to run their campaigns from the day they announce their intention to run until election day.
Another amendment approved preliminarily calls for setting financial penalties – ranging from LE20,000 to LE200,000 – for any campaign violations found to have taken place. A third amendment preliminarily approved by parliament would prohibit SPEC members from being appointed to leading government or parliamentary posts during the president-elect's term.
The amendments represent an attempt by Egypt's Islamist-led parliament to offset the effects of Article 28 of the constitutional declaration, which was issued by the SCAF following last year's revolution and approved via popular referendum. The controversial article makes all decisions issued by the SPEC impervious to appeal.
Article 28 has been subject to considerable criticism in recent months, especially in light of the SPEC's disqualification of certain presidential candidates – such as Salafist frontrunner Hazem Abu-Ismail – and its decision to allow Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq's return to the race.
Egypt's parliament had already amended the presidential elections law in February of this year. During parliamentary debates in February, however, MPs from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) refrained from amending Article 28. At the time, they stressed that the article was part of the constitutional declaration and should therefore not be tampered with.
The SPEC is now awaiting a response from the SCAF before deciding whether or not to resume its activities.
The SPEC's decision to suspend its activities came only hours after a "truce" was reached between the SCAF-appointed government and parliament, following months of tensions between the two state institutions. Some observers had feared the crisis could lead to the postponement of Egypt's presidential elections.