Egypt's political parties disagree over proposed electoral reforms

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 21 Mar 2015

Egypt's mainstream political parties differed over electoral reforms necessary to pave the way for holding parliamentary elections

An Egyptian man casts his ballot in second round of Egypt's parliamentary elections in Cairo, Egypt, 14 December 2011 (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

After two election laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) on the first and seventh of March, Egypt's political parties were prompted to introduce amendments they deem necessary for the long-delayed parliamentary polls to be held without facing new constitutional challenges.

In a statement to parliamentary reporters on Saturday, minister of state for the house of representatives affairs Ibrahim El-Heneidy disclosed that a government-appointed committee charged with revamping the above two election laws has so far examined around 120 proposals submitted by different political parties over the period of a week.

"These proposed amendments tackle two key election laws: the division of electoral constituencies and the workings of the house of representatives," said El-Heneidy, indicating that "political forces are still allowed to submit more proposed amendments until the end of this week."

Heneidy also indicated that in its plenary meeting on 18 March, the cabinet has approved that the scope of the 11-member committee be widened to include "a distinguished expert on election laws."

Heneidy was referring to Ali Awad, a constitutional law professor who served as a legal advisor to former interim president Adly Mansour, who is now SCC's chairman. "Awad was also appointed head of a 10-member committee which drafted the foundations of Egypt's new constitution last year and head of a committee which put the first draft of the electoral constituencies law," said Heneidy.

Heneidy revealed that a number of revolutionary movements have submitted different proposals, with some of them aiming to change the electoral constituencies law as a whole. He also noted that some of these proposals were submitted by the Constitution Party, founded by ex-UN diplomat and liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradie, and the Popular Socialist Alliance party. 

The above two parties had previously announced they would not participate in the polls in protest to what they called "the government's authoritarian policies."

Medhat Al-Zahed, deputy chairman of the Popular Socialist Party, said in a press conference on 18 March that "after former interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim was dismissed, a police officer accused of killing leftist protester Shaimaa El-Sabagh last January was indicted, and two election laws were ruled unconstitutional this month, we decided to have second thoughts."

Joining forces with Al-Zahed, Al-Ahram political analyst Amr El-Shobaki told Ahram Online that 14 political parties decided in a meeting last Wednesday that "the job of drafting the government-appointed committee should not be confined to just making sure that its amendments no longer contravene the constitution or contradict SCC's rulings… The Committee should rather expand its job so as to respond to the demands agreed by most political forces, all aiming to change the electoral constituencies law in its entirety to be more democratic and representative."

Al-Zahed told a press conference on 18 March that "the electoral constituencies law must be completely changed to ensure that all political forces are represented in a democratic parliament…The current law which allocates just 20 per cent of seats to party-based candidates is discriminatory and allows wealthy businessmen and the remnants of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak to  gain a majority, making use of the fact that more than 70 per cent of seats under the current law are allocated to independents.”

Al-Zahed indicated that two "revolutionary" proposals were submitted, all of them aiming to address the above electoral inequalities and discrimination.

"The first proposal seeks to equally divide seats among independents and party candidates, with 50 per cent of seats to each," he said, adding that "the second proposal aims to allocate 40 per cent of seats to party lists, 40 per cent to independents, and 20 per cent to under-represented brackets such as women and Copts."

Al-Zahed argued that the two proposals are united in insisting that the current "majority election system" - which allows the party winning more than 50 per cent of the votes in a constituency to sweep all the seats – be scrapped in favor of "the proportional representation system" which allows political parties to win seats in proportion to the votes they got in each constituency."

Commenting on the above, El-Heneidy notes that in its ruling on the first of March, the SCC ordered that the electoral constituencies law be amended to just observe equality among independent candidates in 20 districts in 13 governorates in terms of population density and number of voters.

He queried whether "the Court did not find any fault in the entire electoral system – or the division of seats among independents and party-based candidates…This means that the drafting committee is just required to observe equality among independent constituencies, but not to change the law as a whole in the form of reallocating a percentage of seats among independents and party candidates."

However, Heneidy also indicated that "although some political forces agreed on certain amendments, other factions introduced different proposals."  

He explained that political parties such as the liberal Al-Wafd and the Islamist Al-Nour have committed themselves to amending the Constituencies Law "within SCC's orders…I mean that all they have proposed to amend is aiming to secure equality among independent constituencies rather than changing the law as a whole.”

According to Heneidy, "Al-Wafd proposed the total number of independent seats increase by 20 –or from currently 420 to 440 – and that will ensure greater equality among individual candidates…We see that this proposal receives a lot of support among the drafting committee's orders.” 

According to Yasser Al-Hodeiby, deputy chairman of Al-Wafd party, a 20-seat increase will ensure that "the difference between the number of voters in each independent constituency does not exceed 25 per cent, as stipulated by SCC's ruling."

Heneidy said Al-Nour party's proposal recommend a new division among independent constituencies in 13 governorates without necessarily increasing the number of seats…This is another possibility that we will work on."

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