The long-awaited re-amendment of the electoral constituencies law, the last obstacle in the way of Egypt's long-delayed parliamentary polls, was approved by the cabinet on 14 April.
Minister of parliamentary affairs, Ibrahim El-Heneidi, told reporters that he has high hopes that the re-amendment of the law, alongside another two legislations on the house of representatives and the exercise of political rights, will not contradict the new constitution and finally pave the way for the country's long-awaited parliamentary elections.
Heneidy explained that the new draft of the constituencies law includes significant revisions, on top of which is that the number of the coming parliament's seats will increase by 25 or from 567 to 592. "This was automatically due to an increase by 24 in the number of seats allocated to independents, or from 420 to 444, while the number of presidential appointees rose by one, or from 27 to 28," said Heneidy.
Heneidy explained that 202 constituencies (instead of 237 under the current law) will be created, returning a total 444 independent MPs. "This is to add to four constituencies that will return 120 party-based MPs, two of which will return 45 deputies each and the remaining two- 15 each," said Heneidy.
Besides, Heneidy said, the number of presidential appointees will stand at 28 or five per cent of the total, as stipulated by the constitution.
The 592-seat parliament is the highest in Egypt's 150-year-old parliamentary history. A study by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) showed that the number of parliamentary seats in Egypt never exceeded 350 between the foundation year in 1866 and 1990.
ACPSS's study, conducted in 2012, said the number of seats in Egypt's parliament increased in 1990 by around 100. "The individual candidacy system was adopted in that year creating 444 constituencies aimed at returning 444 MPs or two per constituency, and this was in addition to 10 presidential appointees, finally making a total of 454," said ACPSS's study.
It was only in 2010 - or when parliamentary elections were held one year before former president Hosni Mubarak was removed from office in a popular uprising – that the number of parliament's seats increased again. "As a quota of 64 seats was reserved for women, the total number of parliamentary seats increased to 518," said ACPSS's report.
After Mubarak was removed from office in February 2011, new election laws were issued, decreasing the total number of parliament's seats by ten or from 518 in 2010 to 508 (including 498 elected MPs and ten presidential appointees).
After president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was elected in May 2014 and new election laws were drafted at the end of that year, it was decided that the number of parliament's seats will increase to 567: 420 for independents, 120 for party MPs, and 10 for presidential appointees.
The above division, however, was ruled unconstitutional by the SCC last month, ordering the government to redraw constituencies to guarantee equality among independent constituencies in terms of the number of voters.
To meet the above objective, minister Heneidy said, the number of independent seats increased by 24 seats. "This, coupled with the redrawing of boundaries, makes sure that the difference in number of voters between one independent constituency and another does not exceed 25 per cent, as stipulated by SCC's rulings," said Heneidy. He also indicated that "each independent constituency will be represented by around 161,000 voters."
In a strong backlash, political parties cried foul that the 25-seat increase – or from 567 to 592 – will adversely affect Egypt's parliamentary life and democratic transition. "The new increase is too big to allow a powerful parliament to exercise an effective supervision of the government," said Gamal Zahran, a former independent MP and professor of political science.
"When parliament consisted of just 454 under the Mubarak regime, the number was still too big for any MP to take the floor and for any legislation to be discussed adequately," said Zahran, wondering that "what could happen when parliament's seats reach a record 592." "It means," he said "that each MP will be allowed to take the floor for just one minute or even less and this is a step back on the road to democracy and to a powerful and vibrant parliament."
Zahran also argues that although article 156 of the constitution gives the president the right to issue laws while parliament is absent, it also stipulates that once in session, parliament has to review such laws in 15 days. "I wonder how parliament with such a record high number will be able in just 15 days to review all of these laws that could reach one hundred or more," said Zahran.
Agreeing with Zahran, Salah Abdel-Maaboud, a senior official of the Salafist Nour party, said "a record number of 592 seats will make it difficult for parliament to do its business efficiently and smoothly, not to mention that parliament's hall cannot accommodate such a big number at one time."
In response, Ali Abdel-Al, a professor of constitutional law and a member of the drafting committee, told Ahram Online that the new increase was introduced after it was made sure that parliament's plenary meetings hall can accommodate it. "I also wonder because some of these political parties in a national dialogue with the prime minister last week asked that the number of parliament's seats increase to 600," said Abdel-Al.
Abdel-Al advised that MPs in Egypt should relinquish the old bad habit of loving to take the floor in parliament for a long time. "A good parliamentarian is the one who can express himself in clear-terms in the shortest possible time, not to mention that political parties should each have a parliamentary spokesman capable of voicing the party's views on behalf of all of its deputies and without consuming much time," said Abdel-Al.