After a six-month delay, the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC), a seven-member judicial body mandated with supervising Egypt's parliamentary polls, has said it will hold a press conference Thursday to announce a timetable for legislative elections.
The press conference comes amid severe sandstorms that hit Egypt from Tuesday, making some doubt that the SEC will be able to meet Thursday.
The SEC announcement follows the ratification 21 December by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi of a new electoral constituencies law, eliminating the final obstacle in the way of the country's long-awaited parliamentary polls.
In a public statement Wednesday, SEC spokesperson Medhat Idris said the press conference will be held 6:30pm local time at the headquarters of the State Information Service in east Cairo's Nasr City district. The press conference, added Idris, will be led by SEC head and chairman of Cairo's Appeal Court Judge Ayman Abbas.
According to Idris, the SEC chose to call the press conference only after all measures and details necessary for holding the poll were complete. "We, in consultation with all state concerned ministries and the Supreme Council for Judges, wanted to make sure that all necessary measures are complete and that state authorities will be ready to implement the timetable," said Idris.
Idris added that the timetable to be announced Thursday will set dates for registration, appeals, campaigning and voting for Egyptian expatriates and then for Egyptians at home. An estimated 54 million Egyptians are registered voters and eligible to cast ballots in the coming poll.
Idris also indicated that the press conference Thursday will disclose whether the polls will be held over two or three stages. Most informed sources expect that the polls will be held over three stages, with each including nine governorates.
Informed sources disclosed that the number of judges who will take part in supervising the vote is expected to stand at 16,000. "Before we set a timetable for the polls, we made sure that a list of the names of all judges who will participate in supervising the polls is complete and that all of them know what polling stations they are going to oversee," said Idris.
Informed sources expect that the number of polling stations will be increased to accommodate the increase in the number of voters and to make it much easier for voters to participate in the ballot. Some expect the total number, including principal and auxiliary polling stations, will stand at 34,000.
Idris explained that the press conference will also announce complete details related to the rules governing the participation of foreign and local NGOs in monitoring the poll. "These [details] will include when NGOs will be able to register for monitoring and for how many days and what documents they will be required to submit in order to be licensed for participation," said Idris.
Idris said that voter lists will be closed one day before the date of registration opens.
Sources expect that the door for registration will open for 10 days or two weeks.
Idris said the rules of campaigning and spending will go in line with election laws. SEC officials announced earlier that any one candidate cannot spend more than LE200.000 on campaigning, and in case of a run-off he or she cannot spend more than LE100.000. But the last amendment of the law on the exercise of political rights, issued last May, states that a candidate cannot spend more than LE2 million in campaigning costs, and in case of a run-off, this amount will be reduced to LE1 million. The law imposes a ban on anyone convicted of tax evasion and/or political corruption crimes, while the police and army are not allowed to vote.
Idris said finally that the announcement of a timetable for parliamentary polls puts into effect the third part of a political roadmap adopted since the ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. The first two parts included approving a new constitution last January and electing a new president last May.
In parallel, while political parties have complained that poll procedures were moving at a snail's pace, they said they have not yet prepared their complete lists of candidates.
The House of Representatives Law specifies that Egypt's new parliament comprises 567 MPs, with 420 independents and 120 party-based deputies. Some 27 MPs will be presidential appointees.
Wagih Shehab, a media spokesman for the liberal Free Egyptians Party, told Ahram Online that the delay in preparing complete lists of candidates was largely due to the delay in finalising the new electoral constituencies law. "Political parties waited until they know first how the complete map of districts would look like and then select the names of candidates in each constituency," said Shehab.
The two electoral alliances of "the Egyptian Wafd" and "the Egyptian Front" said they have finalised almost 80 per cent of the lists of their candidates. The Wafd-led alliance includes four liberal factions and one leftist political party. The Egyptian Front is primarily composed of political parties with links to former president Hosni Mubarak's defunct National Democratic Party (NDP).
The polls will be a tough test for a mix of liberal and leftist forces that are antagonistic to the two former regimes of Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi. Most of these suffer from a severe shortage of funding and a lack of candidates with high popularity or with strong tribal and familial links in most constituencies.
On Monday, the leftist Popular Current faction led by former presidential candidate and Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi announced it would not participate in — rather than boycott — the coming parliamentary polls, citing botched election laws and an alleged return to Mubarak-style rule.
But informed sources with the party said the Popular Current suffers from a financial squeeze and lack of coordination with electoral alliances, two factors necessary to achieve good results in the coming poll.