Post referendum: Egypt leans towards early presidential elections

Marina Barsoum , Saturday 18 Jan 2014

A growing number of political forces now favour electing a president before a parliament is in place – but some fear too much power will be concentrated in the leader's hands

the presidential palace
Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo (Photo: Ahram)

Egyptians have finished voting on the new constitution – the first step in the transitional roadmap.

The overwhelming "yes" vote is likely to increase the feverish clamour for presidential elections to take place before parliamentary polls.

A few days after Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July, interim President Adly Mansour issued a constitutional declaration detailing the steps of the roadmap: a constitution referendum followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.

However, the authorities seem now likely to hold presidential elections first.

Most political forces (which support the roadmap) support the change. But some critics fear the elected president might consolidate power if there is no parliament in place.

At a series of national dialogue meetings last month between Mansour and political forces, a majority backed holding presidential elections first.

The 50-member committee which was tasked with drafting the constitution has said Mansour should decide the order of elections.

Political analyst Gamal Abdel-Gawad is one of many Egyptians in favour of holding presidential elections first.

"Holding presidential elections will enhance the authority of the state. The alliance that launched the 30 June protests will definitely split up if parliamentary elections are held first," Abdel-Gawad says.

Egyptians want a strong leader in place rather than parliamentary representation, he asserts.

He adds, "I don't believe holding presidential elections first will breach the roadmap. It is just a roadmap, not a constitution. And since there is consensus between all political parties, it is simply a political act."

Nader Bakkar, spokesperson for the Nour Party – the only Islamist party to support Morsi's ouster – is indifferent on the matter.

"At first we wanted the interim government to be committed to the initial roadmap, which said parliamentary elections would be held first, but then when we found many political parties were in favour of reversing the order, we decided to go along with the decision," Bakkar explains.

He adds that his party wants guarantees the roadmap will not be changed again.

"We wanted to elect a parliament first because we did not want the president to possess all powers without the presence of a parliament," Bakkar notes.

Many political parties have been calling for presidential elections to be held first since Morsi's ouster, according to Hossam Moeness of the Nasserist-leaning Popular Current.

"Firstly, the situation is unstable, which is why we've been calling for early presidential elections since 30 June. Parliamentary elections will lead to many disputes between parties which we don't have room for now," Moeness says.

Hundreds of people have been killed in clashes since Mohamed Morsi was removed from power on 3 July, and thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members have been arrested in a broad crackdown on Islamists.

In a similar argument, Ahmed Kahiri of the liberal Free Egyptians Party – which backed the roadmap – says electing a president first will shorten the transitional period: if a parliament is elected first Egypt will still be governed by the interim government and president.

Kahiri adds, "An elected president will have the power to plan and implement strategies for the coming period unlike the parliament."

In contrast, Strong Egypt Party spokesperson Ahmed Emam says it is not important which election comes first, but his party is worried about the president holding unchallengeable powers.

"We have had previous experience with presidents having the power to pass laws, such as the protest law and many others, without being challenged. We hope this doesn't happen again," Emam says.

The party, which was established in July 2012 by former Brotherhood member and presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, boycotted the constitution referendum.

Presidential advisor Mohamed El-Muslemany has said Mansour will set the presidential and parliamentary election dates shortly after the completion of the referendum.

In November, Mostafa Hegazy, presidential advisor for political and strategic affairs, said "Those working on the roadmap are serious about completing it, despite minor differences … it's not just about Egypt's transition from autocracy to democracy; we're building the country from scratch."

Swift and serious steps to develop state institutions must be taken in the next five years, he said.

Army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who announced the ouster of Morsi on national television in July, has repeated his commitment to a political process that includes writing a new constitution and holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

The Popular Current's leader, Hamdeen Sabbahi, is considering running for president. However, many political forces that supported his candidacy in 2012 – when he finished third – have said they will back El-Sisi if he stands.

A huge, growing campaign for the army chief to put himself up for presidential elections has been underway for sometime. If he does, El-Sisi is likely to win a resounding victory.

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