Egypt's opposition to unify positions on election laws

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 12 May 2015

Egypt's opposition political parties have said that an initiative ‎aimed at drafting a unified proposal for amendments to the country's election laws has received a big boost

Egypt's parliament (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Close to 40 political parties are to meet on Thursday to discuss an ‎initiative aimed at unifying the Egyptian opposition's ‎positions on the country's election laws and ‎moving the country's long-delayed parliamentary ‎polls forward. ‎

In public statements on Monday night, Akmal ‎Qortam, chairman of the Conservatives Party, said ‎that participants at Thursday's meeting would recommend holding ‎workshops on the three election laws for three days. ‎‎

"These workshops, with legislative experts and ‎opposition officials attending, will discuss the three ‎election laws in detail and help to reach a unified ‎position on their amendments," said Qortam. ‎

Qortam asserted that the initiative has gained a big ‎boost in recent days, gathering support from around ‎‎40 political parties in one week.

"These political ‎parties stressed that they have now become ‎convinced that all should work together and that ‎they should unify their positions on the election ‎laws and offer an alternative to the government's ‎amendments," said Qortam. ‎

The initiative comes after a government-appointed ‎committee late last month finalised amending the three ‎laws necessary to pave the way for the country's ‎long-delayed parliamentary elections.‎

The laws, which will determine the workings of the ‎House of Representatives, the Division of Electoral ‎Constituencies, and the Exercise of Political Rights, ‎are being revised in legal and constitutional terms by ‎the State Council's Department of Legislation and ‎Fatwas.‎

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidy ‎told reporters on Sunday that the council is ‎expected to take between one and ten days to finish ‎its examination of the laws.‎

The council this ‎week obtained the most up-to-date statistics about Egypt’s ‎population and the distribution of voters ‎and citizens in the country's different ‎governorates and districts, he said.

"The council gets this ‎data from different sources – such as the Central ‎Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics and the ‎Higher Electoral Commission – to guarantee that ‎these sources do not have different ‎figures, and that the amended laws observe equality ‎among constituencies depending on these ‎statistics," said Heneidy.‎

Heneidy said the new parliament will comprise 596 ‎seats, 448 for independents, 120 for candidates ‎running on party lists, and 28 for presidential ‎appointees. In determining these figures, Heneidy ‎stressed that the government-affiliated drafting ‎committee made sure that the difference in number ‎of voters between one constituency and another ‎doesn't exceed 25 percent, as stipulated by the ‎Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC).‎

The government doesn't have ‎any objections to political parties proposing amendments ‎to the election laws, Al-Heneidy said.

"But we just have fears that ‎these amendments might further delay the polls and ‎might be ruled unconstitutional by the SCC," he however added.‎

Qortam maintained that the amendments proposed ‎by opposition parties would not, in any way, cause ‎a delay in the polls.

"As all know is that President Abdel-‎Fattah El-Sisi indicated that the polls would be held ‎only after the holy month of Ramadan or at the end of ‎next July, and maybe after," said Qortam. "This means that more than two months still lie ‎ahead, during which time more amendments can be ‎introduced and heavily discussed."‎

Qortam, who is leading the opposition's initiative, ‎also denied that the opposition's amendments might ‎be ruled unconstitutional.

"The amendments mainly ‎focus on the articles that were ruled unconstitutional by SCC ‎in March," said Qortam. "In this way, I ‎think we will be of help to the government, helping it ‎hold the elections as soon as possible and without ‎violation of the constitution or SCC's orders."‎

Amr Hashem Rabie, a political analyst at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies ‎‎(ACPSS), told Ahram Online that the so-called ‎‎"Legislative Reform Committee", led by former ‎cabinet minister and liberal political activist Ahmed ‎Al-Boraie, had been contacted by Qortam for ‎coordination on election laws.

"Qortam said that here ‎should be consultations between the committee and ‎opposition parties over the proposed amendments to ‎the laws," said Rabie. "The committee ‎comprises a lot of experts on election laws and that ‎these will participate in the workshops aimed at ‎drafting the opposition's own version of ‎amendments." ‎

Topping the list of the committee experts are ‎chairman of the Lawyers’ Syndicate Sameh ‎Ashour, former judge and Qalioubiya ‎governor Adli Hussein, civil rights activist and lawyer Negad ‎Al-Boraie, and chairman of the Egyptian ‎Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) Hafez Abu ‎Seada.‎

"Once completed, the amendments will ‎be referred to President Sisi," said ‎Qortam.‎ "The president has ‎the choice: either endorse the opposition's proposal ‎or ratify the government's amendments.”

"Citizens and ‎political parties alike are allowed to send petitions to ‎President Sisi,” Heneidy argued. "But I think that if he receives any proposals from the opposition, he will take the natural step of ‎referring them to government experts to review them ‎in constitutional and legal terms."

"Workshops on election laws will be held ‎for three days, beginning Thursday and ending ‎Saturday," Rabie said. "We will try our best to integrate ‎suggested amendments into one proposal to be ‎submitted in the name of all political parties to ‎President Sisi."‎

The number of political parties ‎joining Qortam's initiative increased from nine last ‎week to around 40 this week, according to Rabie.

"It seems that political ‎parties have realised that they should unify their ‎positions and work together rather than appear ‎divided and fragmented in the eyes of the people," he ‎said.‎

Rabie also argued that political parties have also ‎come to the conclusion that "they would not boycott ‎the polls, even if their proposed amendments were ‎brushed aside by Sisi."‎

"The opposition's unified proposed ‎amendments just aim to send a message to ‎President Sisi that the election laws in their current ‎form will negatively affect political life," Mohamed Sami, chairman of the leftist Karama ‎party and one of the leaders of the nine political ‎parties that joined the first meeting over the ‎initiative on 3 May, told the Ahram newspaper on ‎Monday.

"We want to ‎change the absolute list system which allows only ‎political parties who win over 50 percent of ‎seats per constituency to win all the seats," said ‎Sami, "This system, no longer in effect in most countries, caused internal rifts among political ‎parties, because it has led its senior officials to compete ‎for candidacy without observing internal rules."

‎Sami however insisted that most political parties ‎have decided to participate in the polls.

"Political ‎parties promoting a boycott of the polls are the ‎weak ones and we should not listen to them," ‎said Sami.‎

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