Parliamentary elections: ‘Nothing is sure until it is done’

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 12 Feb 2015

Preparations for overdue legislative elections remain underway, though some are still pushing for a fresh delay, something state officials admit off the record

parliamentary elections
Egyptians vote in parliamentary elections 2011 (Photo: Reuters)

A high-level government source told Ahram Online Wednesday that “those who are saying that [parliamentary] elections will be delayed are being too confident about what remains only a possibility.”

Speaking on strict conditions of anonymity, the source said that “up until this very moment elections are still on and until a delay is announced, then things will go on as planned.”

According to the political roadmap announced by then-Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, now president, on 3 July 2013, following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, parliamentary elections should have followed the adoption of the amended constitution that was passed in the first month of 2014. However, a decree by then-interim President Adly Mansour advanced presidential elections and left legislative elections as the third and last step of the roadmap.

According to the 2014 constitution, there should have been only a six-month interval between presidential and legislative elections. A presidential decree to form the High Elections Committee within the timeframe was announced by legal experts in state bodies as the effective beginning of legislative elections. Only three weeks ago, the HEC announced 8 February as the beginning of registration for parliamentary candidates. Today, close to 4,000 candidates, including prominent figures of the political party of ousted president Hosni Mubarak (the National Democratic Party), like Ahmed Ezz and Hani Sorour, have been registered.

The date of 21 March is set to see the opening first round of legislative elections. However, according to the high-level government source, this date “might have to be missed.”

He argued if this were to happen, it would be the decision of the judicary, not the executive. The administrative and constitutional courts have several lawsuits before them contesting the constitutionality of three laws that organise the legislative elections. The Higher Constitutional Court should announce its verdict early next week. If it were to find any of the relevant legal instruments unconstitutional it would have to demand a redraft of the law — or laws.

This would mean the 21 March date would have to be put off pending the drafting and adoption of another law compatible with the constitution. “In theory, one needs no less than two months for a law to be drafted and adopted,” the same source said. He added it could take a little longer.

However, according to a security source it would then be up to the security bodies to decide the new date in accordance with “many considerations.”

According to this source, the date of 21 March was not welcomed in the first place by security agencies. The preference of the security bodies would have been to avoid the academic year “altogether.” “We have been working hard with the universities to prohibit demonstrations, but with elections and possible allegations of rigging it would be more difficult to keep things under control.”

Government sources have admitted that the 21 March date was decided to send a positive signal to the world about the commitment of the ruling authorities to get done with the roadmap in time, or near, to an international conference that is designed to attract desperately needed foreign investment.

“Our point of view is taken into consideration, but it is not the only factor; there are other bodies that provide assessments about international opinion, and there is also the position of political parties,” said the security source.

Concerned government officials who insist that work is done around the clock to complete preparations for legislative elections agreed that if the judiciary introduces a delay then there is also a calendar to be taken into consideration.

The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan comes in July, reminded one. “You cannot be expecting people to rally and vote during the fasting weeks — it will have to be after Ramadan, and of course August is not a good month because this is the heart of the summer holidays, so we might be talking about September. But this is all very theoretical because we have not been at all notified of any plans to delay past 21 March.”

Three political figures who have taken part in meetings held by President El-Sisi with political parties leaders said that their impression was that the president would prefer to have parliament convene before the first anniversary of his ascent to power in mid-June 2014.

However, while one said that this is only providing that the president is confident about having a parliamentary bloc that supports him (which is not materialising as of yet), the two others were of the opinion that the president does not care very much about having a supportive parliamentary bloc and that he could get things passed through political deals anyway.

According to the 2014 constitution — which some of the president’s closest aides suggest should be amended — the president shares state management powers with parliament, which should co-decide the nomination of a prime minister and cabinet members.

Moreover, according to the constitution, parliament has the right to impeach the head of the executive with a two-thirds vote.

According to several official and non-official political sources, what bothers the president is not the absence of a supportive bloc but rather the possibility of having a strong opposition bloc — particularly one that could assemble a group of business-aligned MPs.

“It is an open secret that the president is dismayed at the positions of some leading businessmen and that he is apprehensive about their influence on the political scene,” said one source. He added that the growing possibility of the hegemony of businessmen over parliament could be a factor that would make the president "more comfortable with the possible few months delay of parliamentary elections."

A presidential source who hastened to underline the “impartiality and full independence of the judiciary,” said that it is “better for the president to have the parliament assembled sooner rather than later,” in view of what might be inevitable and unavoidable economic austerity decisions.

“He would rather say that it was passed by parliament — this is crucial for any president,” he said.

This presidential source also argued that the president would need to have a parliament elected and functioning soon to create a setup to revise some controversial laws, including ones on the regulation of the right to protest, and on the operation of non-governmental organisations.

The one thing that this presidential source was willing to acknowledging was of possible concern to the president was a low turnout. Having survived a legitimacy debate prompted by his Islamist opponents and other revolutionary opposition segments, El-Sisi is clearly keen to remind all concerned that his presidency is part of a transparent and democratic process. He is keen to avoid comparisons to the rule of Hosni Mubarak, where turnout for presidential elections-cum-referenda and parliamentary polls was very low.

A low turnout is looking quite likely given the declining public interest in politics, or as one presidential source rephrased it, “declining interest in the political process out of trust in the elected leader.”

The planned boycott by some political parties of parliamentary elections, to protest what they charge are burgeoning limitations on freedoms, might further lower turnout.

“Of course, the president has his assessment and his aides have their assessments, but ultimately his wish is to have a parliament. He would not, however, wish to have a parliament that will have to be dissolved in a few months due to constitutionally flawed laws,” the presidential source stated. “It is the decision of the Higher Constitutional Court, at the end of the day,” he added.

Should parliament be elected and assembled in summer it would have to review close to 200 laws and decrees passed by Mansour and El-Sisi, who withheld legislative power along with executive prerogatives in the absence of a parliament.

According to the constitution, this is a mission that should be done in two weeks, which might effectively mean that the new legislative body would have to either quickly go through the legislation and rubber-stamp it, or drop many and have them introduced and re-adopted through a voting process.

Egypt has been without a parliament for three years after a court verdict annulled the 2011 elected parliament upon a constitutional flaw in the law that governed its election.

The last parliament had an overwhelming Islamist profile, with members of the now defunct Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, along with Salafist parties and independent Islamists, controlling over 50 per cent of its seats.

In the early weeks of his abruptly curtailed presidential term, Morsi had tried to reassemble the parliament in an affront to the court verdict.

Several political observers argued that despite the huge drop in Islamists' popularity, they could still muster around one quarter of the new parliament with candidates from Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood affiliated quarters.

The same observers argue that the vast majority of seats of the next parliament, whether elections are held in March or later, would go to “the traditional political forces”, namely family notables who historically aligned with the ruling authorities. A good part of these were members of the defunct NDP.

As one former leading NDP figure noted, however, this does not mean that these political leaders would immediately assemble as one political bloc in the next parliament. “In the absence of a powerful political umbrella, like a president supported list, or party, this alliance is not certain,” he said.

He added that “a fragmented parliament that has no majority would simply be inoperative. Inevitably it could be a headache rather than an asset to the president, especially the current president who has enormous political and economic challenges.”

Short link: