New electoral law to scrap Mubarak’s autocratic legacy

Gamal Essam El-Din, Saturday 14 May 2011

Full judicial supervision and scrapping the quota for female parliamentary candidates among the expected amendments to be announced next week

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The long-awaited amendments of Egypt’s 55-year-old law on the exercise of political rights will be formally in the next few days. The law is designed to regulate Egypt’s first parliamentary elections since the revolution, scheduled to be held next September.

The main guidelines of the draft law, which must be ratified by Egypt’s ruling military junta, were cautiously welcomed by civil society organisations and political parties.

The law aims to scrap a 2007 constitutional amendment which allocated a quota of 64 seats for women in parliament. The amendment was put into action during the parliamentary elections of 2010, allowing 46 women, belonging mostly to ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), to join Parliament.

This quota, from 518 parliamentary members, aroused serious objections from opposition parties who accused the NDP of instituting a kind of sham democracy at the expense of introducing a package of radical and genuine political reforms.

The amendments to the law also aim to re-impose full judicial supervision on parliamentary elections. This will see elections being held in three stages.

Each stage will include a number of governorates to be fully covered by judicial monitors and representatives of civil society and human rights organisations.

In 2000, the Supreme Constitutional Court ordered that parliamentary elections be placed under full judicial supervision. Accordingly, the parliamentary elections of 2000 and 2005 were held in three stages, with the rule of “a judge for every voting box” being introduced. As a result, the number of opposition MPs, especially those affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, increased.

In 2007, under the orders of Mubarak, constitutional amendments were endorsed but only after ridding elections of full judicial supervision.

This opened the way for wide scale vote rigging during the 2010 elections, which saw the NDP sweep the new Parliament; the opposition won just two per cent of seats. The blatant electoral fraud perpetrated by the NDP to seize control of Parliament was a major factor behind the youth revolution’s eruption just two months later on 25January, forcing Mubarak out of power eighteen days later.

Another expected amendment to the law on the exercise of political rights concerns the right of Egyptians living abroad to vote in parliamentary or presidential elections.

One informed source said on Thursday: “Egyptian expatriates will be allowed to vote only after a careful study. Right now,” the source argued, “it is quite difficult to place voting in foreign countries under judicial supervision, not to mention that most Egyptian expatriates don’t have national identity cards and even some of them hold dual nationality.”

He also indicated that “in some countries like the US, a big number of Egyptians are living in different states and it is quite difficult to bring them together in one place to vote under judicial supervision.”

However, Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has released a statement (number 49) on their official Facebook page denying media reports that a decision has been taken to ban Egyptians living abroad from voting in the next parliamentary and presidential elections.

It remains to be seen what electoral system will be laid down in the amendments of the law: that of individual candidacy or the party list system.

Each system has its own proponents and opponents, with some preferring to create a mix of the two to allow both independents and party-based candidates equal opportunities of running in the elections and winning seats.

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