A “national consensus” conference has recommended introducing drastic changes to the law regulating the performance of the People’s Assembly and stressed that a new constitution for Egypt be drafted ahead of elections.
Several political forces have been lately piling up pressure on Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to heed calls aimed at drafting a new constitution ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.
These calls have gained momentum after a three-day National Consensus Conference, headed by deputy prime minister Yehia Al-Gammal, stressed that “there is a pressing necessity that a new constitution for Egypt be drafted ahead of any elections in the upcoming stage.”
The Conference’s recommendations, which will be submitted to SCAF, joined forces with most key January 25th Revolution youth groups such as the 6th of April movement and the Coalition of the Revolution’s Youth, agreeiing that “the drafting of a new constitution should be a paramount political priority in the next stage.”
The government-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) also joined the fray, urging SCAF to give heed to calls aimed at drafting a new constitution ahead of elections. “A new constitution is a necessity to draw up a new political roadmap for Egypt ahead of any elections,” said Hafez Abu Si’ida, a prominent NCHR and secretary general of the Egyptian Human Rights Organisation. (EHRO).
The Electoral System Committee (ESC) affiliated to the National Consensus Conference being held at the headquarters of the People’s Assembly has concluded that “the Constitutional Declaration announced by SCAF on 30 March is not enough to guide the country’s political movements towards a full-fledging democracy and that a new constitution should be drafted soon.”
The committee, headed by Al-Ahram Political Analyst Amr Hashem Rabie, also recommended that the 39-year-old law regulating the performance of the People’s Assembly be completely changed. At first, the committee stressed that “the 20-year-old individual candidacy system should be scrapped in favor of a proportional party-list system which would obligate citizens to elect candidates according to their platforms rather than tribal and familial connections or financial leverage.
ESC argued that this system would not come at the expense of independents who will be granted the right of running in elections on separate lists. “Independents can run on one list in each district or join party-based candidates on a mixed list,” said ESC’s statement, recommending that “all of Egypt be divided into 80 or 88 districts – or a district for each million citizens.” In each district, said ESC’s statement, there will be lists of candidates, with each one including six as a maximum or four as minimum.
ESC said a Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC) would be selected to take charge of supervising all kinds of elections. “This SEC will be completely composed of judges and authorized to oversee all stages of elections, beginning with the preparation of voter lists and until supervising vote-counting and announcing final results.”
ESC said a ban should be imposed on any kind of foreign funding for election campaigns and that a ceiling of spending should be placed on these campaigns.
ESC recommended that the age of those eligible for standing in the elections of the People’s Assembly should be brought down from 30 to 25.
It urged that cabinet ministers should not be allowed to run in parliamentary elections. “Old experience shows that cabinet ministers want to become Mps just for greater political prestige and leverage rather than exercising any serious supervisory or legislative roles,” said ESC statement.
Meanwhile, ESC said there is a pressing necessity that “a 57-year-old quota of 50 per cent of seats reserved for representatives of workers and farmers and one-year-old quota of 64 seats for women in parliament be revoked. According to ESC, these quotas were exploited by former presidents – particularly ousted president Hosni Mubarak - not to defend the rights of workers, farmers and women but to maintain the sweeping majority of their ruling parties in parliament.”
In presidential terms, ESC also recommended that the constitution be amended to state that the President of the Republic stay in power for five rather than four years. “The term of the presidency should be five years rather than four because this will go in harmony with the term of the People’s Assembly which includes five-year sessions,” said ESC. It said the president would stay in power for no more than two five-year terms or 10 years.
The committee also said the powers of the president must be curtailed in the new constitution. “One of these is that the President should no longer be granted the right of appointing 10 deputies in the People’s Assembly,” said the ESC statement, arguing that “former presidents exploited this right to reinforce the majority of their ruling parties in parliament rather than allow certain groups like women and Copts have a voice in parliamentary and political life."
ESC said that in order to be eligible for running in presidential elections, hopeful candidates must secure the recommendation of 20 elected deputies in the two houses of parliament – the People’s Assembly and Shura Council – or secure the recommendation of 20,000 citizens in at least 15 governorates, with the number of citizens in each governorate not less than one thousand.
ESC said a president must be born to Egyptian parents and grandparents, not holding dual nationality or be married to a non-Egyptian wife. “He must also have performed military duty or have been exempted from it in a legal way,” said the ESC.
The Committee also recommended that vice-presidents be selected during the presidential campaigns. “Presidential candidates and their selected vice-presidents must run the elections on one ticket as in the case of American elections,” said the ESC. This goes against SCAF’s appointed committee which recommended last February that the selection of vice-presidents be left to elected presidents and be made within 60 days of their election.
The Committee, however, stated that “it is not a necessity for presidential candidates to hold a high education certificate or be university graduates.”
It argued “it is enough for a presidential candidate to hold a basic education certificate [from elementary school].” The committee’s head Amr Hashem Rabie said “several high-performance presidents -- like Brasil’s former president Lula di Silva – were elected without having higher education.”
In another respect, the National Consensus Conference’s Public Authorities and Armed Forces Committee said “the new constitution must stipulate that interior ministers be selected not from security ranks.”
“It is highly recommended that prominent political figures be selected to head the Interior Ministry in order not to put an end to police and security agencies being implicated into violations of human rights or corruption deviations,” said the committee, adding that “political figures topping the interior ministry will also make it sure that police agencies be restructured to serve the security needs of the country and citizens rather than fight political activities and muzzle the press. The committee said a law must be issued to criminalise all forms of torture or any violation of human rights.
In conclusion, the committee recommended that the armed forces forge closer contacts with the people and political forces. “This is necessary so as not to allow rumours drive a wedge between the army and the people,” the committee said, adding that , “the armed forces should be more involved in implementing national projects.”
The Committee said the Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel must be amended to review the size and deployment of Egyptian armed forces in Sinai.
The conference’s head Yehia Al-Gammal, said the recommendations will be forwarded to the SCAF for a final decision. “These recommendations will also act like guidelines when drafting the new constitution and the law regulating the performance of the People’s Assembly,” said Al-Gammal.
SCAF members, added Al-Gammal, vowed that they would take all of these recommendations into account and not to impose their will on political life.