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Monday, 20 August 2018

Egypt: Local councils in limbo

The last time local council elections were held was in 2008. Now a new law regulating them has been delayed for the third year in a row no one is holding their breath they will be held anytime soon

Gamal Essam El-Din , Friday 10 Aug 2018
Egyptian parliament
Egyptian Parliament (Photo: Reuters)
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The House of Representatives concluded its third legislative season on 25 July without discussing new legislation regulating the election of local councils.

“President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said in 2015 that local council elections should be held at the end of 2016. Outgoing prime minister Sherif Ismail told parliament in March that the government was preparing to hold local elections by the end of this year. Yet no steps have been taken,” says Suez MP Abdel-Hamid Kamal.

“Parliament adjourned for its summer recess two weeks ago and once again local councils were left in limbo.”

In May Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal promised MPs the necessary law would be passed before the House adjourned for the summer.

“This law is one of the best pieces of political legislation in Egypt’s history and it will be a step towards ridding local councils of corruption, democratising and upgrading their performance,” said Abdel-Aal.

Ahmed Al-Sigini, head of parliament’s Local Administration Committee, told reporters in May that the committee had completed its work on the draft law.”

Ahmed Raslan, an independent MP from Marsa Matrouh, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the absence of any political laws from the agenda of parliament’s third session was worrying.

“Legislation regulating the performance and election of local councils has been completely ignored for a third year,” said Raslan. “Initially it was planned that the election of local councils would take place at the end of 2015 but the government then cited security concerns for delaying the poll.”

“Now security has been restored and a National Election Authority [NEC] in charge of supervising municipal elections has been formed. Yet the government and parliamentary leaders still insist on ignoring the elections.”

“There is no risk in holding the polls. They are necessary to revitalise political life, democratise local administrations and upgrade the public services they provide.”

At a press conference on 29 July, Parliament’s Spokesperson Salah Hassaballah told reporters that the long-awaited law will be prioritised in parliament’s next session (2018/19), scheduled to begin in October.

Hassaballah said that although the Local Administration has finalised its drafting and discussions of the law it was postponed because it still needs to be the subject of a national dialogue.

“We will have a complete law regulating the performance and election of local councils and it will be a priority in the coming session,” said Hassaballah.

“We want a national dialogue because the law covers controversial issues, including boundary changes and whether a list or individual system should be used.”

Hassaballah said the law as drafted by the Local Administration Committee comprises 157 articles of which “10 regulate the process of electing local councils and the remaining 147 cover the performance, make-up and roles of its members.”

Al-Sigini said the committee had held hearing sessions on the law over the last 18 months “during which experts and a number of provincial governors were invited to give their views”.

“The last local council elections were held in 2008 but were invalidated by the Supreme Constitutional Court because they took place without judicial supervision,” says MP Abdel-Hamid Kamal.

“The newly elected councils were disbanded, leaving the pre-election councils in charge until new elections could be held.”

The absence of popularly elected local councils has undermined the supervision of municipal executives, says Kamel.

“Executive councils now operate without any oversight. Earlier this year the Administrative Control Authority issued a report estimating that corruption within local councils had cost LE2 billion.”

Article 180 of the constitution stipulates that local elections be held every four years with a quarter of council seats reserved for people under 35 and a quarter for women, and that half of all council seats be occupied by workers’ and farmers’ representatives.

“These stipulations made discussion of the law in the committee very delicate because we were keen that the final draft observed all of the constitutionally stipulated quotas,” said Al-Sigini.

Al-Sigini defended the decision to delay the law to allow for a national dialogue.

“First you have to make sure that the 54,000 members who will be elected meet the relevant constitutional stipulations and that the electoral system adopted — a mixture of the list and individual ones — can achieve this,” he said.

“It will also be necessary that the boundaries of districts be finalised ahead of the poll, and the government must allocate a budget to cover the cost of the election.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: ‘Local councils in limbo’

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