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In search of a national consensus

A combination of political movements are piling the pressure on Egypt's ruling military to demand the drafting of a new ‎constitution before elections

Gamal Essam El-Din, Sunday 5 Jun 2011
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Views: 1609

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.‎

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