Egypt's political parties blame government for imminent election delay

Ayat Al Tawy , Sunday 1 Mar 2015

A court has ruled parts of the election law unconstitutional, meaning the parliamentary poll will likely be delayed

Workers clean inside the Egyptian parliament in Cairo (Photo: AP)

Egyptian political parties have blamed the authorities for a looming delay in a decisive parliamentary poll after a Cairo court on Sunday deemed parts of a law regulating elections unconstitutional.

Egypt's constitutional court ruled on Sunday that an article in the law outlining electoral districts violates the country's national charter, seemingly forcing a delay to the long-awaited vote that was scheduled to start on 22 March.

But critics appear to hold the government responsible for the hiccup, saying the authorities had turned a blind eye to fears they had expressed over the constitutionality of the legislation regulating the poll.

"The committee which drafted the law repeatedly ignored reservations expressed by the [Nour] Party and several others," Nader Bakkar, of the ultra-conservative Nour Party, told Ahram Online.

He added that an ensuing delay would hinder the democratic progress in Egypt, which has been without a legislature since June 2012 when a court dissolved an Islamist-dominated chamber shortly before toppled president Mohamed Morsi took office. El-Sisi has wielded legislative powers in the absence of parliament.

Observers had claimed the electoral district law along with another legislation that allows a sizeable quota for independent candidates failed to achieve a fair representation in parliament and allows Mubarak-era cronies and wealthy businessmen to regain influence.

Several opposition political parties had in recent weeks said they would boycott the polls in protest at the current political climate.

But the court on Sunday only ruled against the law defining voting districts, which, analysts say, might see some electoral districts added or merged in a process that might take months.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has ordered that the law be amended within a month and the country's main election committee said it was working on a new timetable for the procedures.

"We are now back to square one, wasting 10 months of work since El-Sisi became president," Salah Hassaballah, deputy head of the liberal Conference Party, said, adding that Egypt's political landscape is now getting fuzzier as the fate of an assembly is again thrown in limbo.

Hassaballah urged a national dialogue on redrafting the law in question, so that the state could "put right its mistake" of unilaterally ratifying a flawed legislation.

Other critics appear skeptical of the government's desire to hold the elections, saying democracy seems to take a backseat against the backdrop of what authorities portray as its "war against terrorism."

"The frenzy in media outlets loyal to authorities about the fact that a parliament is not now a priority and the government's insistence to ratify laws widely viewed beforehand as unconstitutional shows an inclination by the state against holding the elections," said Farid Zahran, a leading member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

Zahran claims that such a tendency by the state is highly buttressed by a public mood, casting calls for quick elections as time-wasting against the backdrop of the battle to shore up the economy and crush a militant insurgency based in the border Sinai region.

The elections are significant to authorities who seek to prove it is progressing on the right path to democracy to Western governments that condemned the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and a crackdown on his supporters.

Some observers say this might be an urge for the government to speed up the procedures; otherwise, the odds are that the poll could take months to start.

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