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Youth and women in parliament

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial , Wednesday 14 Oct 2020
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A new phase in political life begins next week when voters report to the polls to elect the next House of Representatives. 

For voters abroad, the first round of voting begins 21 October and lasts three days. Then voting inside Egypt will take place 24 and 25 October. The run-offs will be held in December. 

Parliamentary elections have been organised in two stages to fill 248 seats contested by individual candidates (128 seats in each stage) and another 284 seats using the closed electoral list system (two lists in each stage, one with 100 candidates and another with 43 candidates). Egypt has been divided into 143 constituencies using the individual ticket system and four constituencies using the winner-take-all electoral list system. 

According to the regulations set by the National Elections Authority (NEA), campaign spending for candidates fielding themselves on individual tickets may not exceed LE500,000 in the first round and another LE200,000 in the event they proceed to a run-off. For the 43-member electoral lists, maximum campaign spending has been set at LE7 million and another LE2.8 million in the event of a run-off, and for 100-member lists the limit is LE10.6 million in the first round and LE6.6 million in the event of a run-off. 

“For the Sake of Egypt” stands out as the coalition that has succeeded in attracting the largest number of serious parties. The list represents 12 political parties, foremost among which are Mostaqbal Watan (Future of the Homeland) and the Wafd Party. They succeeded in reaching a last-minute agreement on the number of seats each of them would receive in the event their list wins. 

Officials from this coalition see their list as a major opportunity to stimulate and rejuvenate political ranks with an array of political party figures and younger politicians. While the list expresses a consensus among 12 political parties of diverse ideologies and outlooks, party leaders stress that the coalition is solely for electoral purposes and that the member parties will not be bound by a specific platform should the list win and their members attain seats beneath the parliamentary dome. Each member party’s MPs will have the liberty to voice his/her party’s views, regardless of whether it stands with the government or with the opposition in the new parliament. It is noteworthy that this major coalition does not include quite a few familiar faces from the current parliament, precisely in order to make way for younger talents who will inject fresh blood into parliamentary life. 

A new and important variable in the forthcoming elections is the participation of a new political entity called the Coordination Committee of Party Youth Leaders and Politicians (CPYP), which is fielding 26 of its members. CPYP officials believe that their experiment will enrich political life in Egypt by advancing young political leaders and equipping them to participate fully in political and decision-making processes and, eventually, to assume leadership positions. The CPYP is a member of the “For the Sake of Egypt” alliance, but the list also includes a large number of young candidates who are not members of the CPYP. 

Although the notion of such an electoral alliance at this time has met with some criticism, there is a general consensus among key political forces today on the need to avert past mistakes and to ensure the effective participation of women and minorities in parliament. Women occupy a prominent place on the “For the Sake of Egypt” list in keeping with constitutional and legal provisions that women should be represented by at least 25 per cent of the seats in parliament. The House of Representatives Law provides that 50 per cent of seats in the House should be contested using the closed list system precisely in order to ensure that women and minorities are effectively represented in parliament. 

The government is counting on voters to turn out to the polls in large numbers, despite circumstances related to Covid-19. It is keen to see as broad a representation of the people as possible in the next parliament in light of the many challenges the country faces at home and abroad at this juncture. In addition to the ongoing fight against terrorism and extremism, there have been attempts to sow unrest on the part of entities and agencies opposed to the Egyptian government. At this time of regional turmoil, in particular, a broadly representative parliament is a strong asset.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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