Recent amendments to three laws necessary to pave the way for Egypt's long-delayed parliamentary elections have drawn fire from the country's mainstream political parties.
In several public statements, different opposition parties complained that the amendments, endorsed by the State Council's Department of Legislation and Fatwas on Monday, fall far short of the electoral reforms they had suggested.
"The amendments go against most of the legislative reforms proposed by opposition parties, not to mention that they made it quite impossible for any political party to gain a majority in parliament," said Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party and a nephew of late president Anwar El-Sadat.
The amendments, prepared by a government-appointed committee and revised by the State Council's Department of Legislation and Fatwas to be in line with the new constitution, are part of a review of three election laws that determine the workings of the House of Representatives, the Division of Electoral Constituencies, and the Exercise of Political Rights.
"While the committee and the council have almost prepared a semi-final draft of the constituencies law, deliberations over the two laws regulating the house of representatives and the exercise of political rights are still ongoing," Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice Ibrahim El-Heneidy told parliamentary reporters on Monday.
The semi-final draft of the constituencies law will be referred back to the cabinet, Heneidy said.
"In its coming plenary meeting, the cabinet will review the remarks raised by the council and, if approved, the law will be endorsed and sent to President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi for final ratification."
Heneidy explained that the semi-final draft of the constituencies law came after a meeting between him and chairman of the Department of Legislation and Fatwas Magdi El-Agati, attended by members of the government drafting committee and Ali Awad, former president Adli Mansour's advisor for legal and constitutional affairs.
Heneidy said that all parties at the meeting had agreed that the total number of parliamentary seats remain unchanged at 596, with 448 (78 percent) reserved for independents, 120 (17 percent) for party-based MPs and 28 (5 percent) for presidential appointees.
"We made just a very slight change: that the number of constituencies reserved for competition among independents should be 205 instead of 206," said Heneidy.
"Of the 205 constituencies reserved for independents, 43 will return a single MP each, 93 will return two, 49 will return three MPs and 20 will return four," explained Rifaat Qomsan, a drafting committee member and an advisor to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab on election affairs.
Qomsan told reporters that the recent division of independent constituencies was designed to be in accordance with the Supreme Constitutional Court's (SCC) 1 March ruling that the constituencies law be amended to observe equality among independent constituencies in 13 governorates.
The ruling led to the postponement of the country's parliamentary elections, which had been scheduled to begin on 21 March.
The SCC ruling stipulated that any new division must ensure that the difference in number of voters between one independent constituency and another did not exceed 25 percent.
Heneidy indicated that the Monday meeting between the committee members and the State Council's judges ensured that the difference did not exceed 25 percent and that the assessment of voter distribution be based on population statistics released in May, rather than in January.
Opposition's suggestion rejected
Heneidy said that, while the opposition's unified amendments to the laws on the House of Representatives and the Exercise of Political Rights have been accepted, all of their proposals for changes to the constituencies law had been rejected.
"Although the opposition's unified [suggestions for] amendments were rejected, I still have high hopes that the State Council will approve an increase in the number of the party list constituencies from four to eight," Sadat said.
"Constituencies allocated to competition between party lists remain unchanged," Heneidy said. "There are still four, while the constituencies reserved for independents have been reduced by one."
"Whatever the final outcome, we all hope that the semi-final draft of the constituencies law will finally pave the way for parliamentary elections to be held, and that the resulting parliament will not be threatened by any future constitutional challenges," Sadat said.
"This is why we proposed that the election laws be scrutinised first by the SCC, so that the new parliament does not face the threat of dissolution," said Sadat.
Magdi Sharabeya, secretary-general of the leftist Tagammu Party, criticised the recent amendments, complaining that the new division of independent constituencies still makes it highly difficult for candidates with limited funds to compete successfully.
"The way the law mixes large and small-scale constituencies clearly favours wealthy candidates and places strain on political parties when it comes to campaign funding," said Sharabeya.
Ahmed El-Boraie, a former minister of social solidarity and member of the Democratic Current, an alliance of revolutionary liberal and leftist parties, launched a scathing attack against the amendments.
"From the very beginning, we have voiced sharp criticism of the three election draft laws," said Boraie, "and that the State Council's recent approval of the new amendments mean that around 80 percent of parliamentary seats will remain reserved to independents, thus opening the door wide for wealthy business tycoons and candidates with family and tribal connections to dominate the coming parliament."
Political parties should boycott any coming elections in protest at these ill-advised laws, Boraie said.
The Wafd Party also joined the chorus of critics, accusing the government and the State Council of ignoring the opposition's proposed electoral reforms.
"Instead of increasing the number of independent and party list constituencies, they did the opposite, opting to maintain the number of party-list constituencies at four, while decreasing the total number of independent ones,” said Wafd spokesman Hossam Al-Khouli.
Al-Khouli, however, stressed that the Wafd Party would not heed any calls to boycott the polls and that it is ready to compete in the elections under any circumstances.