Q&A: Egypt's upcoming parliamentary poll

Ayat Al Tawy , Sunday 4 Jan 2015

As parliamentary elections approach in 2015, Ahram Online lists the most frequently asked questions, and their answers, on Egypt's new parliamentary system and the law governing legislative elections

Egyptian parliamentary elections
An Egyptian man casts his ballot in second round of Egypt's parliamentary elections in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 14, 2011 (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Egypt has been without a parliament since 2012, when a court dissolved an Islamist-dominated chamber shortly before toppled president Mohamed Morsi took office.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said late in December the country's long awaited parliamentary poll is expected to take place around March 2015.

As the decisive elections approach, Ahram Online provides a list of the most frequently asked questions about the poll and their answers.

Q1: How many members will there be in the 2015 parliament and how will they be elected? 

The House of Representatives is comprised of 567 seats: 420 will be elected as individuals; while 120 through the winner-take-all (absolute closed) party lists.

Five percent of these seats (27) will be appointed by the president upon recommendations from respective state councils and professional syndicates.

Q2: What do the individual candidacy and the 'absolute closed' list systems mean?

Candidates under the individual system are elected on an independent basis. Yet, party members can contest in the poll as individuals. Non-party individuals can also form their own lists.

Closed list means that voters can only choose a full party list, rather than a certain candidate, while absolute list means that only the list that will secure a majority in the poll (50+1) will win all the seats.

E.g., If party/coalition A and party/coalition B are contesting in a given voting district, and A won 51 percent of the vote and B 49 percent, A would win all the seats of this electoral constituency and B would be totally excluded.

Q3: Why are some political parties and figures dismayed?

Many political parties have voiced opposition to the individual candidacy system, saying it opens doors for clan fanaticism and allows wealthy businessmen and influential local figures to run as independents using local patronage networks to influence votes and get into parliament.

They fear the system, mostly imposed under veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak, will allow old regime cronies to regain leverage.

Officials meanwhile say the small size of electoral districts that individuals will compete in will help buttress communication between MPs and the public and give greater precedence to local issues.

Politicians and parties across the country's political spectrum have also taken issue with the absolute closed list system, arguing that it squanders votes and fails to provide fair representation. Others say it will deal a blow to fledgling political parties born following the 2011 uprising who struggle to have influence on the ground in favour of old parties with large cash resources.

Others in favour of the closed lists say the system will help avoid candidates of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood group getting into parliament.

Q4: What do critics want?

Many critics have been in favour of open lists (where voters can choose a certain candidate or several candidates from different party lists), and proportional lists (where seats are allotted based on the votes each list or candidate has earned).

The proportional list is hailed for providing all contesting forces representation in parliament.

Q5: How are the voting districts outlined under the new elections law?

For individuals candidates, the country is divided into 237 constituiencies; some will be represented by one seat, others by two or three.

Only four electoral constituencies nationwide will be earmarked for the closed party lists: two comprising 45 seats and two 15 seats (all Upper Egypt governorates, for example, form up one constituency).

There have been concerns about a fair and balanced representation of individuals (number of seats) in proportion to the number of voters in electoral districts, with some saying elections could be legally questioned on this basis.

Some observers fear that having voting districts for party lists spanning several governorates will negatively impact the homogeneity of MPs and preclude them from working closely with constituency residents. They also say this would make campaigning particularly difficult.  

Q6: What kind of parliament will Egypt have?

The system adopted will make it difficult for any political party to secure a sizeable bloc, which observers say will result in a parliament favourably disposed to the government.

The chamber will be dominated by individuals rather than parties and ideologies, something critics say will result in an incoherent, scattered legislature where political parties are poorly represented and candidates would focus on sectional issues of their constituency at the expense of their major role of oversight and legislation.

Q7: How will women, farmers and workers, youth and other categories will be represented in the parliament?

Of the 120 seats allotted for the party lists, at least 56 should be held by women, 24 Coptic Christians, 16 farmers and workers, 16 youth, eight people with special needs, and eight by Egyptian expats.

Also, at least half of the 27 MPs appointed by the president must be women.

Q8: What are the mandates given to the parliament under the 2014 Constitution?

In addition to holding legislative authority, the chamber will be in charge of reviewing all laws issued since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, approving ministerial reshuffles and presidential pardons, as well as ratifying the president's decisions and his appointment of independent state bodies or removal of the government.

The parliament is entitled to withdraw confidence from the president through a referendum. If people vote in favour of the president in such a referendum, parliament would be dissolved.

Q9: How will the poll be monitored?

Local and foreign monitors from non-governmental human rights and democracy organisations as well as foreign embassy and electoral delegations will be allowed to observe the poll pursuant to a decision by the country's electoral commission.

Q10: What was the electoral system imposed in the last lower house election (2011/2012)?

Two thirds of the seats were allotted to closed proportional lists and one third for individuals, allowing the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties to win nearly 70 percent of seats in the poll, Egypt's first elections since Mubarak's ouster.

The system was criticised by several parties and figures who demanded adopting the open party list system on all seats.

Q11: What was the system imposed under Mubarak's 30-year rule?

The individual candidacy system had been applied for almost two decades under Mubarak, where his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) dominated the chamber.

Under his rule, only party members (party lists) contested in the first parliamentary election in 1984. In the next poll, in 1987, 90 percent of MPs were drawn from party members and 10 percent from independents.

Both parliaments were later dissolved by court order, ruling that they failed to provide fair representation between party lists and independents.

But Egypt's new constitution allows blending both systems "in any proportion" (Article 102).

Under Mubarak, 50 percent of parliament seats had been allotted to farmers and workers who are believed to make up more than half of the country's 87 million population.

Observers say the quota, which was scrapped under the new parliamentary elections law, had long been used as a veneer by politicians and businessmen to get into parliament.

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