Egypt's parliamentary elections 'back to square one,' minister Heneidy says

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 4 Mar 2015

Cabinet minister Ibrahim Al-Heneidy said the drafting of a new electoral constituencies law will take Egypt's parliamentary elections back to square one

Egyptian parliament
A worker cleans the table of the Egyptian parliament in Cairo January 22, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Preparations for Egypt's long-delayed parliamentary elections will begin next week as the polls "will be back to square one," said Ibrahim Al-Heneidy, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice on Wednesday.

Heneidy told parliamentary reporters that the elections, which were originally scheduled to be held in two rounds between 21-22 March and 6-7 May, were put on hold after the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled on the first of March that the electoral constituencies law to be unconstitutional. The court found the law violated Article 102 of the constitution which stipulates that equal representation among voters in all constituencies must be guaranteed.

"We feel sorry that parliamentary elections were postponed for constitutional reasons, but we hope new preparations will be back on track next week and that a new timetable for the polls will be set within one month or even less," Heneidy said.

He also observed that a government-affiliated committee which took charge of drafting the current electoral constituencies' law will be the one entrusted again with putting a new draft in line with SCC's ruling. "But the scope of this committee will be widened this time to include representatives from mainstream political forces in a bid to reach consensus over the new draft," said Heneidy.

The committee is expected to meet only after the SCC delivers another ruling about whether the house of representatives' law – widely known as the parliamentary elections law – is constitutional, Heneidy said.

The SCC said on Tuesday it will deliver rulings on two petitions contesting the constitutionality of the house of the representatives law on 7 March or next Saturday.

The petitions, filed by high-profile lawyer Essam Al-Islambouli and Coptic political activist Michael Mounir, argue that articles three, four, five and eight of the house of representatives law are unconstitutional because they discriminate against Egyptian expatriates and citizens who hold dual nationality.

"While articles three, four, and five fail to allocate enough seats to representatives of Egyptian expats, article eight strips citizens holding dual nationality of standing for parliament," said Al-Islambouli. "Both violate articles 53 and 88 of the constitution, which stipulate that Egyptians are equal in rights and duties without discrimination."

Heneidy told parliamentary reporters that "it is better for the drafting committee to meet only after SCC's ruling on Saturday because it might rule the house of representatives' law unconstitutional and in such a scenario the committee will be obliged to amend this law too."

Egypt's parliamentary elections are regulated by three laws: the exercise of political rights, the house of representatives and the electoral constituencies.

Heneidy said that "SCC's rulings on the first of March meant that the committee should draft a new electoral constituencies' law and this means that Egypt's parliamentary elections will be back to square one." "I mean that there will be a complete review of the three election laws and that citizens whose candidacy registration papers were rejected will be entitled to apply again," he said.

Heneidy also referred to the fact that an estimated number of 250 petitions are still being heard by administrative courts and that "there is a possibility that these courts could also refer some articles of other election laws to the SCC to say whether they are constitutional."

Heneidy said he has high hopes that "new preparations for parliamentary polls will take no more than one month or even less."

Salah Fawzi, a member of the drafting committee, told Al-Ahram newspaper on Wednesday that the drafting of a new electoral constituencies' law could only take "ten days.''

Fawzi explained that in accordance with SCC's ruling on the first of March, the constituencies reserved to competition among independent candidates will be the only ones subject to change."

"The number of these constituencies stand at 237 and as a result of SCC's ruling they could increase or decrease," said Fawzi, adding that "as for four party list constituencies, the SCC said there is nothing wrong with them." "But if SCC ruled next Saturday the inclusion of Egyptian expats on party lists to be unconstitutional, it would force us to change all the constituencies – including both independents and party lists," he saidi.

Meanwhile, political parties and the drafting committee exchanged fire over the responsibility for the latest delay to the parliamentary elections. Mohamed Abu Al-Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, accused President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and the drafting committee of "formulating laws that only aim to delay the elections forever."

For his part, minister Heneidy blamed the 50-member committee which drafted Egypt's new constitution last year for the country's current election crisis. "The election texts were drafted by this committee in a very ambivalent way rather than in clear cut terms," he said.

Ali Abdel-Al, a constitutional law professor, told Al-Ahram Online that "the 50-member committee - which included Abu Al-Ghar and other chairmen of political parties - drafted the election texts in a way that observed political interests rather than constitutional considerations."

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