Egypt’s parliament approved on Tuesday by a two-thirds majority vote a law aimed at creating a National Electoral Commission (NEC) to be responsible for supervising general elections and referendums, putting an end to full judicial supervision of elections.
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said that the elimination of full judicial supervision puts an end to the "judge for every voting box" principle.
"I also want to make sure that this elimination goes in line with the constitution," said Abdel-Aal.
In a session on 21 June, parliament approved Article 34 of the NEC law, which states that full judicial supervision of polls should be revoked by 2024.
A report by parliament’s legislative reform committee said that the law is in line with articles 208 and 209 of the constitution, which state that “a National Electoral Commission should be created to supervise and monitor the country's general elections – parliamentary, presidential and municipal – and referendums.”
“The law also aims to implement Article 210 of the constitution, which stipulates that full judicial supervision of the polls should be phased out within 10 years, or on 17 January 2024,” the report said.
Abdel-Aal argued during the 21 June parliament session that "full judicial supervision of the polls cannot continue forever, and for this reason the NEC was created to make up for this supervision."
Abdel-Aal argued that “the two revolutions of 25 January and 30 June made it quite difficult – if not impossible – for any political regime in Egypt to risk rigging the polls.”
“And so after 10 years, the NEC will have gained enough experience to run electoral affairs without full judicial supervision,” Abdel-Aal added.
According to the 37-article law, the NEC will be an independent authority that will be solely responsible for holding general elections and referendums in Egypt.
"Its duties will range from reviewing national voter lists on a periodical basis, making sure they are clean and free of any irregularities, to holding polls and announcing results," said the committee's report on the law.
Debate in parliament
Despite Abdel-Aal's words, MPs were sharply divided over Article 34 of the law.
Independent MP Mostafa Bakri said that Egyptians have full trust in judges, and as such "Article 34 can never be accepted in its present form."
"Most Egyptians believe that polls will be rigged if not held under full judicial supervision," said Bakri, warning that "the stipulation will cast a shadow over the integrity of polls in the future."
In response, Abdel-Aal said that "any change in Article 34 would be considered void and unconstitutional."
"I want to point out that Article 34 will only eliminate the ‘judge for every voting box’ principle, but it will not eliminate general judicial supervision of the polls altogether."
Mohamed El-Sewedi, head of parliament’s majority coalition Support Egypt, said that he agrees that full judicial supervision must be phased out within 10 years.
El-Sewedi argues that the second paragraph of Article 210 of the constitution states that the NEC can use any number of judges it likes to make sure that the polls are held with integrity and transparency.
However, Article 34 was heavily criticised by members of parliament’s 25-30 opposition bloc, who said in a statement that "the elimination of judicial supervision puts an end to the integrity of elections in Egypt."
"It is a process that began in 2000 and led to changing the political landscape in Egypt, and was highly instrumental in fueling two revolutions," the statement said.
Leftist MP and film director Khaled Youssef said that "Article 34 deals a deafening blow to the ideals of the two revolutions of 25 January and 30 June, which raised the slogans of clean polls and full judicial supervision."
Youssef said that when the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak resorted to revoking full judicial supervision in 2010, it opened the way for rigging parliamentary elections that year.
"In the end, this led to the removal of Mubarak and his regime a few months later [in February 2011]," said Youssef.
Osama Heikal, the head of parliament's media and culture committee, said that "Article 210 of the constitution could be amended to eliminate the 10-year stipulation related to full judicial supervision."
"If we reach 2024 without having gained full trust in the NEC, I think it would be necessary that the constitution be amended to re-impose full judicial supervision permanently," said Heikal.
The law states that the NEC will be headed by the head of the Court of Cassation.
"The NEC's board will include 10 members, comprising one head [and nine] senior judges affiliated with the Court of Cassation, the Court of Appeals, the State Council, the State Cases Authority, and the Administrative Prosecution Authority," said the report by the legislative reform committee, adding that "all will be selected by the Higher Council for Judges and endorsed by the president of the republic."
"Their term of office will be a non-renewable six years and they must be six years under the retirement age when they join NEC's board," said the report.
The NEC's decisions can be appealed before administrative courts.