'National dialogue' between Egypt PM and political forces to begin Thursday

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 1 Apr 2015

Public figures and representatives from 15 Egyptian political parties are to attend national dialogue meetings with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab on Thursday

Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab prepares to attend a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Egypt's Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Heneidy announced on Tuesday that a series of national dialogue meetings between Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and representatives of mainstream political forces are due to begin on Thursday to pave the way for long-delayed parliamentary elections. Heneidy told parliamentary reporters that as many as 75 political figures are expected to attend the meetings.

"Some of them are representatives of 15 political parties, while others are high-profile public figures," said Heneidy, explaining that "Prime Minister Mahlab wants to listen to all viewpoints over proposed amendments to election laws in a bid to reach common ground that could pave the way for the long-awaited parliamentary elections."

Heneidy also said that "while political forces and public figures on one side will review their proposed amendments, there will be on the other side a panel of legislative and constitutional experts who are members of a government-appointed committee in charge of amending these laws and who will reflect on these amendments in terms of whether they are in line with the constitution or not."

"We hope we will be able to close differences in five meetings between the two sides in a bid to reach a kind of national consensus over the steps that could finally lead the way to parliamentary elections," said Heneidy, adding that "if differences persist, we could resort to a vote to see what proposed amendments will gain a majority."

Heneidy said on top of the list of participants are chairmen of the Wafd party, the Free Egyptians party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and the ultraconservative Salafist Nour party, not to mention public figures such as former foreign minister Amr Moussa and electoral experts from Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

According to Heneidy, the meeting with Mahlab comes after a government-appointed committee has almost finalised amending two election laws to bring them in line with two rulings issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) on the first and seventh of March.

"The committee has finished amending two laws on the workings of the House of Representatives and the Division of Electoral Constituencies, but we still have to bridge the gap with political forces which proposed different amendments to these two laws," said Heneidy.

Heneidy disclosed that the meeting with Mahlab will focus on three electoral reforms proposed by different political forces. "The first is whether the constituencies law be changed completely rather than be amended to merely comply with SCC's 1 March ruling which asked for achieving equality among independent candidates," said Heneidy.

The 1 March ruling said the division of electoral districts failed to ensure equal representation for voters in different constituencies, and was therefore unconstitutional.

Heneidy argued that "the most logical scenario is that the number of seats reserved for independents increase by 20, or from 420 to 440, and the total number of parliament's seats increases from 567 to 587 or 588."

Heneidy also disclosed that the meeting's agenda will discuss whether the SCC's law could be amended to allow it exercise a pre-scrutiny of election laws.

The third issue on top of the agenda of the meeting with Mahlab deals with proposed amendments to the House of Representatives Law – popularly known as the parliamentary elections law.

"We will see how Egyptians with dual nationality or those who did not do military service for different reasons can be allowed to run," said Heneidy.

Heneidy disclosed that the drafting committee has already finalised amending Article 8 of the House law to bring it in line with the SCC's ruling on 7 March, which stated that Egyptians with dual nationality cannot be stripped of exercising political rights, including the right to run for parliament.

"The amendment allows Egyptians with dual nationality to run for parliament, but with the stipulation that they are in full exercise of their political and civilian rights," said Heneidy.

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