The government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf held an eight-hour meeting yesterday to approve two new laws aimed at regulating the upcoming elections for the People’s Assembly and Shura Council, Egypt’s two houses of parliament. The meeting, which also endorsed the 28 June Administrative Court’s order dissolving local councils, said the draft of the two laws must be ratified by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) before it takes effect ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
In parallel, SCAF chairman and Minister of Defence Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi held a meeting yesterday with members of the Higher Elections Commission (HEC), the body in charge of supervising the upcoming parliamentary elections. The meeting reviewed the new amendments to the Elections Law and guarantees necessary to ensuring that the elections are fair, free and transparent.
The two steps fuelled speculation that SCAF is committed to organising parliamentary elections in September despite growing calls among opposition forces that a new constitution be drafted first, ahead of elections.
The amendments to the Elections Law introduce a mix of individual candidacy and party-list systems. According to the government’s spokesman, Ahmed El-Samman, half of the seats will be elected via the proportional party-list system while the other half will come through individual candidacy. “However,” indicated Al-Samman, “the size of each district will be designed so as to allow party-based and independent candidates to compete on an equal footing,” explaining that “the geographical and administrative boundaries and density of population will be taken into account when redesigning constituencies.”
The amendments state that “each competing party must get a threshold of two per cent of seats in order to be eligible to join parliament.” In the 1980s, laws stipulated that the threshold was seven per cent.
Although the amendments scrapped a one-year old quota of 64 seats reserved for women in parliament, they stipulate that party lists should include at least one woman candidate. “This means that each party participating in the election must place at least one woman on its list of candidates in each district,” said Al-Sammen, arguing that “in this way, women will be able to get at least 29 per cent of seats in the new parliament.”
The minimum age of those eligible to run for parliamentary election has been reduced from 30 to 25. “This is intended to allow young people — especially those belonging to the youth movements of the January 25 Revolution — to join parliament and inject new blood into its ranks,” said Al-Samman.
Meanwhile, the amendments state that the 47-year-old 50 per cent quota of seats reserved for workers and farmers in parliament must be kept in place. “This means that the lists of party-based candidates must include at least 50 per cent of representatives of farmers and workers,” said Al-Samman.
The amendments, however, go against the recommendations of a government-sponsored “National Consensus” conference that called for scrapping the quota reserved for workers and farmers. Most political parties, with the exception of liberals, are in favour of maintaining the 50 per cent quota of seats for workers and farmers.
Commenting on the amendments, Yehia El-Gammal, deputy prime minister in charge of political affairs, said “It was necessary to conclude drafting the two laws regulating the election and performance of the People’s Assembly ... because the time ahead of the parliamentary elections is short and all parties must begin gearing up for this election.”