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Egypt's political parties mobilise against elections laws

Leaders of Egyptian secular opposition parties said they plan to step up efforts to get amended two government-drafted elections laws that will govern Egypt's upcoming parliamentary polls

Gamal Essam El-Din, Saturday 8 Nov 2014
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While Egypt's cabinet is expected Wednesday to endorse a new electoral districts law to pave the way for parliamentary polls, political parties underlined they remain dissatisfied with two laws slated to regulate the country's coming polls.

Leaders of Egyptian secular opposition parties said they plan to step up efforts aimed at amending two government-drafted election laws.

According to sources close to the Egyptian Wafd Alliance — an electoral coalition composed of five non-Islamist political parties — leaders of the alliance will send their reservations over the two election laws (the law on the House of Representatives, No 46 of 2014, and the law on exercise of political rights, No 45 of 2014) to a technical committee entrusted with drafting the new electoral districts law.

Hossam El-Khouli, assistant secretary-general of the Wafd Party, told Ahram Online that Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab urged leaders of the Egyptian Wafd Alliance in a meeting 5 November to send their objections and proposed amendments of the two laws to the technical committee he formed three weeks ago.

El-Khouli cited Mahlab as telling the meeting that once the new electoral districts law is finalised, the technical committee will open a national dialogue on it and other elections laws.

"I think political parties should seize this opportunity to send their proposed amendments of all the election laws to the committee and I am sure that it will take these into serious consideration," El-Khouli cited Mahlab as saying.

El-Khouli indicated that leaders of the Egyptian Wafd bloc also seized in their meeting with Mahlab opportunity to underline that they will contest the coming parliamentary polls even though the government refuses to heed their objections over the electoral laws.

"We know as the elections date nears that it is quite difficult for the elections laws to be amended in such a short time, but we also told Mahlab that these laws do not help serve Egypt's transition to a democratic political environment in which the president and parliament share power," said El-Khouli.

El-Khouli argued that while the House of Representatives law discriminates against party-based candidates in the form of allocating almost two thirds of seats to independents, it also imposes an "absolute party list system" in terms of stipulating that a party list must get 50 per cent of votes or more per district in order to qualify for joining parliament.

"We underlined that these two points will make it very difficult for new secular parties that came into being after the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 to join parliament, not to mention that it will help the diehards of the Mubarak regime return to parliament again as independents," said Al-Khouli.

Al-Khouli also lamented that the political rights law does not close the door to expensive campaigning.

Al-Khouli also disclosed in an interview with the Egyptian Al-Hayat satellite television channel that Mahlab told Al-Wafd that the long-awaited electoral districts law would be finalised within two weeks. Mahlab said one week ago that the law would be finalised before 10 November.

On Saturday, and after a meeting with leaders of the Egyptian Front alliance, an electoral bloc mainly composed of ex-Mubarak regime officials, Mahlab was cited as saying that the electoral districts law will be discussed — and may be endorsed — by the cabinet in a plenary meeting Wednesday. "If endorsed, it would be sent to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi for ratification," Mahlab was quoted as saying.

Al-Khouli said Mahlab affirmed that parliamentary elections are expected to take place January or February, or end on March. "As a I underlined before, we want these polls to be held as soon as possible, to send the world a message that Egypt is keen on moving to fully democratic rule," Al-Khouli quoted Mahlab as saying 5 November.

Mahlab was also cited as indicating that holding parliamentary polls in January or February would not dissuade the government from organising an international donors conference 25 February, with the aim of boosting Egypt's economy.

Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, leader of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, said coordination among secular opposition parties is expected to intensify in the next few days. Shukr told Ahram Online that the Civilian Democratic Alliance — an electoral coalition including a loose mix of revolutionary liberal and leftist secular political parties — will make a last-ditch effort to mobilise other secular political parties in favour of amending the two main election laws.

Shukr said the Democratic Alliance want the number of seats reserved for party lists be raised from 120 to 180 and that the absolute party list system be scrapped in favour of a proportional one that helps political parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes they get per district.

Joining forces with Shukr, Anwar Al-Sadat, leader of the Reform and Development Party, disclosed that in their meeting with Mahlab, officials of the Wafd-led coalition stressed that while they stand firm behind the government and President El-Sisi in their war against terrorism in Sinai and elsewhere in Egypt, they also ask both to respect the new constitution and move the country to fully democratic rule as soon as possible.

After Mahlab's meeting with the Egyptian Front coalition Saturday, the Front's spokesperson, Mostafa Bakri, cited Egypt's prime minister as disclosing that the electoral districts law, the last obstacle before polls can be held, would be discussed by the cabinet in its weekly meeting Wednesday.

Bakri said the Egyptian Front coalition is not against the two main election laws, but it also does not object to amending them to strike a balance between seats reserved for independents and party-based candidates.

Meanwhile, the Higher Electoral Committee (HEC) — a judicial body entrusted with supervising Egypt's coming parliamentary polls — adopted Saturday new measures aimed at paving the way for the polls.

HEC spokesperson Medhat Idris said special HEC-affiliated technical committees would be formed in Egypt's 27 governorates to take charge of reviewing candidacy applications.

"These committees will make sure that hopeful candidates meet registration conditions, particularly in terms of whether the candidate is an independent or a party-based [candidate]," said Idris.

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