On Sunday, MPs approved amendments to three laws: Law 46/2014, regulating the composition of the House of Representative; Law 45/2014 on the exercise of political rights, and Law198/2017 regulating the performance of the National Election Committee (NEC). A day later MPs also approved a new law regulating the composition of a second chamber — the Senate.
The amendments were drafted and submitted last week by the majority Support Egypt coalition.
The amendments to the House law states that the number of elected MPs be increased to 568, instead of 540, in line with Article 102 of Egypt’s 2019 amended constitution.
Article 3 states half this number will be elected via the individual candidacy system, and half through the closed list system. An additional 28 MPs will be appointed by the president, and 25 per cent of the total number of House seats (125) are reserved for women.
During the two-day debate on the law differences emerged between political parties over the election system for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The Conservatives Party, led by oil tycoon Akmal Qortam, abstained from voting, while MPs affiliated with the 25-30 group rejected the law.
Qortam said his party refrained from voting because “amendments to the House law should have been preceded by a meaningful national dialogue, and the adoption of a closed list system runs counter to the spirit of political pluralism as enshrined in the constitution.” He argued that a proportional system would have better served the goal of political plurality.
In response,Ashraf Rashad, head of the Future of Homeland Party, insisted that the amendments were the result of a dialogue in which the majority political parties participated.
“The dialogue began two years ago, and participants agreed that a closed list system is the best option for Egypt,” said Rashad. “The closed list system opens the door for small political parties to form coalitions and then run on one list to gain seats.”
Mustafa Bakri, an independent MP, said the 50-50 election system (50 per cent for individuals and 50 per cent for party lists) is in line with the constitution.
“We saw how the 25-75 system was invalidated by the Constitutional Court and led to parliament being dissolved in 2012,” said Bakri.
Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said proportional representation can lead to political instability because it tends to create a fragmented House. “At such a critical time, when Egypt faces multiple security challenges, we need a system that allows for a strong parliament,” said Abdel-Aal.
Tagammu Party head Al-Sayed Abdel-Aal said that during the talks several political parties argued for a proportional list but despite the fact “there was agreement that this system leads to a truly representative parliament” their views were side-lined.
MP Talaat Khalil said the national dialogue brokered by the Future of Homeland was an exercise in window-dressing.
“Initially I participated in the dialogue but when it became apparent it was no more than a formal exercise I withdrew,” he said.
“I’m afraid the real goal of the amendments is to turn one political bloc into a ruling party in all but name.”
“We are not legislating for a ruling party,” responded Speaker Abdel-Aal. “The president of the republic is not allowed by the constitution to be at the helm of a political party.”
Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs committee, said changes to the law on the exercise of political rights covered the eligibility of candidates.
“A parliamentary election candidate must present a curriculum vitae and financial statement, and have a university degree,” said Abu Shoka.
“Individual candidates will have to deposit LE10,000, and party list candidates LE42,000 (if on a list including 42 candidates) and LE100,000 (if on a list including 100 candidates).”
Changes to articles 11, 31 and 32 will allow public-sector employees to stand in parliamentary elections provided they take paid leave if elected.
Article 18 allows parliamentary candidates to procure a CD including voter lists for a payment of LE500.
Article 45 prohibits simultaneous membership of the House of Representative and the Senate, while Article 51 states that the chairman of the Senate will assume financial and administrative responsibility for the House should it be dissolved, and the prime minister will take on the same responsibilities in the event of the dissolution of both chambers.
Article 20 allows candidates to withdraw ahead of voting day, and stipulates the NEC publish a final list of candidates a day before the polls open.
The amendments to the NEC law require a decision on appeals filed by candidates within 24, rather than 48, hours.
“The change aims to speed up the election process and help the NEC observe integrity, neutrality and fairness in the ballot process,” said Abu Shoka.
“Article 11 of the NEC law has also been amended, and requires the NEC to announce the result of the election within six rather than eight days from the polls closing.”
On Monday, parliament also approved a draft bill on the composition and election of the Senate. The draft law envisages a 300-member Senate, with a third of members elected via the closed list system, a third through the individual system, and the remaining third named by the president. Ten per cent of the seats will be reserved for women.
Abu Shoka said the Senate law is in line with the 2019 amendments to the constitution which state that a second chamber be created to widen the scope of political participation.
“The Senate will debate proposed amendments to the constitution, the country’s five-year socio-economic development plan, international treaties, national security agreements, and draft laws referred by the president or the House of Representatives,” said Abu Shoka.
Support Egypt Chairman Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi said the Senate will reinvigorate political life.
“The return of a second chamber is a valuable addition to political life and national unity,” said Al-Qasabi. “Members of the Senate will contribute to the political development of Egypt.”
Wafdist MP and Deputy Parliament Speaker Suleiman Wahdan welcomed the return of a second chamber.
“We hope the Senate will push political reform in Egypt forward, and play a role in activating political life,” he said.
Speaker Abdel-Aal said the return of a bicameral system will improve the performance of parliament.
“The existence of two houses will help ensure new legislation receives careful scrutiny, and that supervision of the government is more effective.”
Opposition MPs sharply attacked the return of the Shura Council, renamed the
Senate, with Alexandrian MP Haitham Al-Hariri saying he feared the new chamber will be packed with regime loyalists.
“The public showed in the past that they have no interest in this kind of parliamentary window-dressing. In 2012, just 10 per cent of voters participated in the Shura Council poll.”
Ahmed Tantawi warned that the size of Senate constituencies will open the door for vote-buying, while Ayman Abul-Ela, spokesperson of the Free Egyptians Party, proposed that two thirds of the Senate’s 300 members be elected via the party list system, and 100 appointed.
“The size of the constituencies, and the amount of money needed to launch an effective campaign, will make it impossible for many to contest Senate seats as individuals,” he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly