Egyptian house of Parliament (Photo: Reuters)
After a brief discussion, Egypt's cabinet in a plenary meeting on Wednesday approved in concept amendments for two election laws necessary to move the country's long-awaited parliamentary elections forward. The two laws are on the workings of the House of Representatives, or Egypt's lower house parliament, and the Division of Electoral Constituencies.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim El-Heneidy told reporters that Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab met in person with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to review the main amendments of the two laws.
Heneidy said a government-appointed committee which took charge of amending the two laws will meet Thursday to make a final review of the changes. "This will be followed by referring the amendments to the State Council's Department of Legislations and Fatwas to be revised in constitutional terms," said Heneidy.
After meeting with El-Sisi, Mahlab said "the initial approval of the electoral amendments shows that the government has fulfilled its promise that the amendments would be finalised as soon as possible."
Heneidy said the amendments will lead to raising the number of parliament's seats to a total of 589 or 590.
"The Constituencies Law was amended to go in line with last month's ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) which ordered that an equilibrium must be struck among independent constituencies in terms of the number of voters," said Heneidy, disclosing that "to meet this objective, the number of seats allocated to independents increased by 22, from 420 to 442."
Heneidy explained that "some constituencies will be represented by one independent MP, others by two MPs, some by three MPs, and a few by four, while many constituencies were merged together, with their boundaries redrawn."
Heneidy also indicated that the new amendments led to eliminating independent constituencies that were reserved to new housing communities such as 6th of October city. "But constituencies reserved to border governorates will stay unchanged," he said.
In line with SCC's ruling, each independent constituency will include 169,000 voters, Heneidy added.
"In its meeting Thursday, the drafting committee will make sure that the difference in the number of voters among independent constituencies does not exceed 25 per cent, as stipulated by SCC's ruling," said Heneidy.
Heneidy stated that the above changes mean that the total number of parliament's seats will increase. "We will have 442 MPs as independents, 120 as party-based MPs, and 5 per cent as presidential appointees."
"The 5 per cent here means that the president will be authorised to appoint 28 or 29 MPs, thus raising the total number of parliament's seats to 589 or 590," said Heneidy, indicating that "the final tally will be decided by the drafting committee in its meeting on Thursday."
Heneidy said the amendments to the House of Representatives law aims at allowing Egyptians with dual nationality to run for parliament, and stripping military service dodgers of the ability to run for parliament.
"Other amendments seek to achieve equality among candidates in terms of spending on election campaigns and equality among female and male MPs in parliament when they decide to change their business category or political affiliation," said Heneidy. He also stressed that "by introducing the above amendments, the committee was aiming to make sure that the elections will be finally held without facing any serious constitutional challenges."
Egypt's parliamentary elections were originally scheduled to be held mid-March but were postponed after SCC ruled the above two election laws unconstitutional.
If endorsed by president El-Sisi next week, the Higher Election Committee would be required to meet to decide on a new timetable for the polls.