After a long delay, Egypt's cabinet has finally endorsed four laws necessary for holding the country's long-awaited parliamentary elections.
Minister of Parliamentary Elections and Transitional Justice Ibrahim Al-Heneidy told parliamentary reporters that the laws are expected to be ratified by Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in the next few days, the last step before preparations can officially kick off.
Heneidy said the first three laws regulate the workings of the House of the Representatives, the exercise of political rights, and the division of electoral constituencies. As for the fourth one, Heneidy indicated that it is a legislative amendment of the law regulating the performance of the High Constitutional Court (HCC).
Heneidy said the cabinet's approval of the electoral constituencies law (Law 202/2014) in particular finally opens the door for parliamentary elections to be held as early as September.
The law was ruled unconstitutional in March, which led to postponing parliamentary elections scheduled to be held 21 March.
According to Heneidy, "The law in its final form and as approved by the cabinet states that Egypt's parliament will comprise 596 deputies, with 448 as independents, 120 as party-based MPs, and 28 as presidential nominees.
"While the final form also states that the 448 independents will be elected from 205 constituencies, the 120 party MPs will come from four constituencies, with 90 MPs per two or 45 each and 30 MPs per another two, or 15 each."
Heneidy indicated that proposals submitted by the State Council's department of legislation and fatwas to the election laws were rejected.
"After considering the opinion of several security and administrative agencies, the cabinet decided that the council's proposal that some constituencies be merged into each other be rejected," said Heneidy, who also indicated that, "The other proposal that some constituencies in Cairo be redesigned to be separate from each other was also rejected."
Heneidy said the cabinet only approved that the two Upper Egypt constituencies of Qaft and Qena be merged into each other, as recommended by the State Council.
As for the law on the exercise of political rights (Law 45/2014), Heneidy explained that, "The only amendment here is that the door will be opened for Egyptians with dual nationality to contest parliamentary elections."
Heneidy also indicated that the House of Representatives affairs law (Law 46/2014) was amended to set the ceiling of spending by a party list including 45 candidates on election campaigns at LE7.5 million, rather than LE20 million as proposed by some political parties.
Heneidy said the law of the High Constitutional Court (Law 48/1979) was amended to allow the court to issue rulings on appeals filed against parliamentary election laws without a time limit.
"Under the present law, the court is obliged to issue rulings on election appeals within 25 days only, but this will change to allow HCC's judges decide on these appeals without any time limit," said Heneidy.
Heneidy indicated that the amendment was proposed by the HCC's board itself. "Its judges, headed by former Interim President Adly Mansour, complained that the time limit on election appeals exerted a tremendous burden on them and that they do not want to be restricted by time limits," said Heneidy.
According to Mohamed Al-Shennawi, a member of HCC's board of judges, "The last year showed that the time limit forced the HCC at times to issue rulings on election appeals within five days only."
"This exerted a lot of pressure on the court's judges and as a result they lobbied for the amendment to free themselves from any time limits," said Al-Shennawi.
Al-Shennawi in a TV interview said: "The above amendment will not negatively affect the coming parliament." "In issuing rulings on election appeals, the court's board will choose the right time in a way that cannot destabilise any of the state authorities," said Al-Shennawi.
Heneidy disclosed that an earlier legislative proposal aimed at making the coming parliament immune to dissolution was rejected.
"The proposal, submitted by political parties, stipulated that if a parliamentary election law was ruled unconstitutional, this should not lead to an automatic or immediate dissolution of parliament," said Heneidy, adding that, "This proposal was rejected by the cabinet in its meeting on 1 July."
In response, Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, told Ahram Online that, "The above two amendments pose a big threat to the coming parliament." "It simply means that while exercising its duties, the coming parliament could face the spectre of dissolution at any time," said Sadat.
Sadat argued the parties' proposal that the coming parliament not be dissolved at once if any of its election laws was invalidated was aimed to stabilise the country's political and legislative life.
"Now that this proposal was rejected, it would mean that the coming parliament will be always at the mercy of the High Constitutional Court," said Sadat.