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Wednesday, 01 April 2020

Egypt's local councils in limbo

Discussion of the newly-drafted local administration law has reached a deadlock raising speculation that elections will be postponed to 2021

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 9 Jan 2020
Local councils in limbo
A file photo of the Egyptian parliament (photo: Khaled Meshaal)
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MP Fayeka Fahim directed a question to Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal last week asking why parliament has postponed the discussion of the newly-drafted law regulating the election and performance of local councils.

“Parliament began discussing the government-drafted local administration law on 22 December but after a stormy meeting it was decided the law be indefinitely postponed,” noted Fahim.

When the local councils’ law came up for discussion before parliament after a two-year delay hopes were voiced that it would be quickly debated and passed. Many political parties, however, attacked the law, arguing it needed to be divided into two separate pieces of legislation, one covering the election of local authorities, the second their performance.

Ashraf Rashad, head of the Future of Homeland Party, argued that “discussion and passing of the law would mean local council elections must be scheduled and this is something we are not ready for.

“Political parties cannot contest three elections, to the House of Representatives, the Senate and Local Councils, in one year,” said Rashad.

Ayman Abul-Ela, parliamentary spokesman of the Free Egyptians Party, believes the electoral system adopted in the draft local administration law violates Article 180 of the constitution which states that 25 per cent of seats in local councils be allocated to women.

“Only a list system can realistically meet this quota but the law envisages a mixed individual and list system in local council elections,” said Abul-Ela.

Salah Abu Himila, spokesman of the majority Support Egypt coalition, said the new system failed to take the redrawing of local council units into account. “One of the major objectives of the new law is to decentralise local councils,” said Abu Himila.

In response, Abdel-Aal defended the law, warning that an indefinite postponement of the discussion will send a bad message to the outside world.

“A new local administration law is a constitutional obligation. Article 242 of the 2014 constitution required a new local administration system be put in place within five years,” said Abdel-Aal.

“While it is true this issue was not a priority for parliament in the last five years, it is now high time the obligation be met.

“To delay discussion of the law sends the message that we are loath to meet constitutional obligations and are not interested in fighting corruption on local councils.

“The constitution does not stipulate the holding of local elections should immediately follow the passing of the local administration law. Political parties which claim they cannot approve the law because they are not ready to contest local council elections should know the poll will be held only when the right time comes.”

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told reporters during a visit to Fayoum city on 25 December 2019 that “while holding local council elections is important ,to hold three elections in one year represents a big challenge and the issue should be a matter of debate among all Egyptians.”

Fahim said she was taken aback by the decision of most political parties to reject the law. “Local councils have been performing without any supervision for almost 10 years during which corruption has proliferated.”

“The election of local councils was invalidated by the Supreme Constitutional Court in 2011,” points out parliament’s Local Administration Committee head Ahmed Al-Sigini, “and the local administration system has continued since then without any kind of supervision.

“The new law will create elected local councils which will take charge of supervising the performance of provincial governors and executive local councils. It aims to foster administrative decentralisation and secure the financial independence of local councils.

“Provincial governors and executive councils will have a lot of independent powers, but at the same time they will be subject to a strict supervision of elected councils which will act like mini-parliaments.”

According to Al-Sigini, when the government-drafted local administration law was first referred to parliament in November 2016, a joint committee was formed to discuss it.

“The new law is divided into four chapters covering the components of local administration in Egypt, local councils, financial resources, and local council subdivisions.

“After listening to the views of experts and representatives of political parties and civil society organisations over 50 meetings it was agreed a mixed individual and list party system be adopted in local council elections. A closed list party system will be used to elect 75 per cent of seats, and an individual system will elect the remaining 25 per cent of seats.

“If political parties want to split the legislation into two laws, one on the performance and one on the election, fine, but it is not a reason to indefinitely postpone the discussion of the law.”

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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