Countdown to Egypt's presidential election to start

Gamal Essam El-Din , Friday 7 Mar 2014

The law regulating the presidential election is expected to be issued after a lengthy process of amendment

Egyptians vote
Egyptians vote in 2012 presidential election (Photo: AP)

Egypt’s newly-appointed cabinet on Thursday approved a law aimed at regulating the country’s upcoming presidential polls. The controversial 59-article piece of legislation has to be ratified by interim President Adly Mansour before it goes into effect and sets preparations for presidential polls into motion. Mansour may send the draft back for further amendments if he chooses.

Ali Awad, Mansour’s legal and constitutional affairs advisor, said on Thursday that he will hold a press conference to announce the details of the latest draft of the new presidential election law. 

The next step will be a meeting of the Presidential Election Commission (PEC) – the five-member judicial body tasked with supervising presidential polls – to prepare for the process which will see Egypt elect its second president in three years.

Military chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who announced the removal of president Mohamed Morsi in July after mass protests against his rule, is widely expected to announce his candidacy soon. On Tuesday, he told a public audience that he could not “turn his back” on the majority who want him to run.

The election of a new president is the next stage of the post-Morsi regime’s political roadmap which began with the approval of a new constitution at a referendum in January, and will end with the election of a new parliament in the autumn.

The new presidential elections law has been the subject of intense debate and the delays in finalising the law have delayed the election process, which was expected to begin on 18 February, or one month after the country’s new constitution was approved in a public referendum. 

The draft law was sent by Mansour’s legal team to the State Council’s Department of Fatwas and Legislation on 17 February to be revised in legal and constitutional terms. Magdi El-Agati, chairman of the department, said revision of the final draft of the law was finished during “a stormy debate” on 3 March, and then sent to Mansour the next day. 

The council, El-Agati added, was divided over the draft of several articles of the law, especially Article 7 which made the Presidential Election Commission’s decisions immune to appeals. 

El-Agati explained that divisions among the council’s members extended to including other articles such as whether the ceiling of spending on election campaigns should be LE10 million or LE20 million and whether a candidate must be a university graduate. “The council’s opinion is just advisory,” noted El-Agati. “Any final say on the draft will be left to President Mansour.”  

El-Agati said the divisions led the council’s members to create two drafts for some articles. For example, two drafts of Article 7 were formulated, one which allows appeals in presidential elections under strict conditions and one which imposes an outright ban.

According to El-Agati, “while the majority of the department’s judges concluded that making PEC’s decisions immune to appeals violates the new constitution, and that appeals in presidential elections should be allowed, even if under strict conditions, some other judges, including Farid Tanaghou, chairman of the State Council to which the Department of Fatwas is affiliated, sided with Mansour’s legal team which rejected appeals in presidential elections.” 

Informed sources said PEC’s judges attacked allowing appeals in presidential elections, insisting in a letter to Mansour that “this will be a big mistake that could jeopardise the legality of the new president.”

Sources also revealed that judges of the High Constitutional Court also exerted pressure on Mansour, urging him to secure the legality of the new president by rejecting appeals against PEC’s decisions. 

Maher El-Beheri, the High Constitutional Court’s former chairman, told a TV interview that PEC’s members are senior judges whose decisions should be final and immune to appeals.

“Candidates can only have the right to file complaints with PEC, but not appeals that could delay the election process and shake the legality of the elected president.” Mansour’s legal team has made it clear that allowing appeals could delay the election of a new president and thus impact on national security. 

The council’s semi-final draft of Article 7 restricts the right to file appeals to “those directly concerned with the election process, mainly candidates.” Appeals against any PEC decision will have to be filed within two days of the decision’s announcement. The Supreme Administrative Court will then evaluate the appeals and issue a final verdict within one week or – according to other sources – 10 days. Another draft clearly states that PEC’s decisions are final and immune to any kind of appeals.

Article 1, which stipulates that presidential candidates must hold a university degree, was also the cause of controversy. “Some judges argued that it contravened Articles 141 and 142 of the constitution which do not impose this stipulation, while others contended that since the constitution was silent on the matter it could be decided by the law,” said El-Agati. He added that “the majority was in favour of a university degree, but the final say will again be left to President Mansour” who can amend the law even after it has been passed by the cabinet.

The law was further amended to stipulate that presidential candidates must be free from any physical or mental illness that might negatively affect the performance of presidential duties. Article 11 now obliges candidates to undergo medical check-ups and provide a certificate from the health ministry stating they meet this criteria. The article also obliges candidates to provide a certificate to be issued by the interior ministry, stating that they do not have a criminal record. 

There was disagreement on whether the ceiling for campaign spending in the first round should be raised from LE10 million to LE20 million. All the council’s judges, however, agreed that in the case of a run-off campaign spending will be limited to LE5 million. Donations will be deposited in a public sector bank account to be audited by the Central Auditing Agency. 

Article 23 bans candidates from obtaining any funding from foreign institutions or individuals. Candidates will have to submit a detailed statement of the money they have spent with 15 days of the date of the announcement of the final result of polls. If a candidate fails to meet this condition he/she will be subject to a fine between LE5,000 and LE10,000. 

Demands that the candidate’s family members, including children, must not hold dual nationality had been rejected on the grounds that it contravenes Article 141 of the new constitution. The original text of Article 1 of the law has therefore been maintained. It states that presidential hopefuls must be born to Egyptian parents and that neither the candidate’s parents nor his or her spouse can hold a dual nationality. 

The council’s judges were divided over whether Article 35 should be amended to state that if only one candidate contests the election he/she would automatically be announced the winner. The original text stipulated if a candidate won unopposed, this would be compromised by the stipulation that 30 percent of voters must have turned out to vote. Awad said this was amended to stipulate if a candidate were to win unopposed, at least 5 percent of registered voters must have participated in the election.

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