Fate of Egypt's parliamentary elections to be decided Sunday

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 28 Feb 2015

Egypt's courts are expected on Sunday to issue verdicts that will decide whether the country's parliamentary elections will be held on schedule or delayed

parliamentary elections
A man casts his vote at a polling station during the second day of parliamentary elections in Alexandria, November 29, 2011 (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court is expected on Sunday to rule on four lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of three electoral laws: the Law of the Exercise of Political Rights, the Parliamentary Elections Law, and the Elections Constituency Division Law.

The SCC, after two hearing sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, said it would issue its final judgment on the four lawsuits on Sunday.

Egypt's parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in two rounds, beginning on 21-22 March and ending on 6-7 May, and Egypt's mainstream political parties have said that they hope the rulings will not cause any significant delay in the polls.

The petitions filed against the two laws on the Exercise of Political Rights and the Parliamentary Elections argue that they each contain an article that is unconstitutional.

An "advisory" report issued by SCC's panel of commissioners agreed that Article 25 in the exercise of Law of the Exercise of Political Rights had failed to observe equality "because it sets different ceilings for campaign costs for independent and party-list candidates."

"While the article sets a campaign ceiling of LE500,000 for independent candidates in the first round of voting, it sets a much lower level for party-based candidates," SCC's advisory report said. "The article states that lists of 15 party-based candidates are allowed to spend LE1 million, or just LE67,000 per candidate."

The advisory report also concluded that Article 6 of the Parliamentary Elections Law discriminates against male MPs. "While the article allows female MPs to change their political affiliations at any moment, it does not allow male deputies to do the same [without garnering the approval of two-thirds of representatives], in violation of principles of equality," said the report.

Ali Abdel-Al, a constitutional law professor and a member of the government committee which drafted the three laws, told Ahram Online that "if any of the above two articles -- or both -- were ruled unconstitutional, they would be amended in a short time and as a result pave the way for the polls to be held on schedule."

"The committee that drafted the two laws will meet at once to amend the two articles to guarantee equality while election procedures will go forward without any delay," said Abdel-Al.

But the petitions filed against the constitutionality of the electoral constituencies law are a different matter. These argue that the law violates Article 102 of the constitution which stipulates equality among constituencies in terms of population density and number of voters.

"If ruled unconstitutional, the law would have to be amended by the drafting committee and this could take some time, but also without delaying the polls too much," said Abdel-Al, arguing that " if the polls were delayed for some time, this should be viewed as a good development because it will guarantee the coming parliament stays immune to any future constitutional appeals."

Abdel-Al said the committee defended the law before the SCC argued that it observed strict equality among constituencies, taking political, economic and social considerations into account. "This is not to mention that the law was thoroughly revised by the State Council's Department of Legislations and Fatwas, the Higher Council of Judges and the Higher Election Committee (HEC) before it was ratified by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi," said Abdel-Al.

Leading officials of political parties agree that "if ruled unconstitutional, the electoral districts law should be put to a national dialogue rather than be left for the drafting committee alone to re-amend it."

"We hope that the election laws in general are amended to meet the demands of political parties, on top of which allocating more seats to party-based candidates," said the Wafd's secretary-general Bahaa Abu Shoka.

Most political parties, however, said they are against any further long delay for the polls. "This will only help portray a negative image of the country, especially before the Egypt economic development conference due to be held 13-15 March," said Abu Shoka.

Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party, said he hopes that the SCC's rulings will not delay the polls for very long.

"The SCC's rulings in themselves are a good thing because they will guarantee that the coming parliament stands on solid constitutional grounds, but at the same time we hope that these rulings will not delay the polls for months or even weeks," said El-Sadat.

The Salafist Nour Party agreed that if any of the three election laws was ruled unconstitutional, "the government should be ready to amend them in a short period of time," said Nour's secretary-general Galal El-Morra, adding that "Nour respects the SCC's rulings, but nonetheless the polls should not be delayed for long."

"The quicker you move on the road of the polls, the more the country becomes politically stable," said El-Morra.

Several government officials such as Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said have they want the marathon of Egypt's parliamentary polls to kick off ahead of the economic development conference in March, a major event at which the government hopes to attract significant international investment.

Meanwhile, administrative justice courts are also scheduled Sunday to finalise settling appeals filed against the Higher Election Committee, a five-member judicial body mandated with supervising the polls.

Some candidates filed appeals against the body because HEC refused to allow them to register, while others asked HEC to reject the registration of rival candidates on the grounds that they violate the requirements by holding dual nationality, or not having performed military service, or not holding a higher education certificate.

Other appeals demanded that  leading officials of former president Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), since disbanded, be disqualified from running on grounds that many of them were convicted of corruption-related crimes or have failed to submit complete registration papers, including a detailed financial statement of their wealth.

Ahmed Ezz, a steel tycoon who held several high level positions in the NDP under Mubarak, was among those appealing HEC's decision to refuse his registration as a c andidate. The appeal was rejected by the court which insisted that Ezz be disqualified from running after failing to include documents detailing his financial dealings.

Administrative justice courts have also disqualified other former leading NDP officials who sought to run in the polls in different governorates. Prominent among these are businessman Hani Sorour in Cairo and El-Husseini Abu Qamar in Port Said.

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