Egyptian police officers unload ballot boxes in front of a polling station on the eve of the November 28 parliamentary elections; the last during the Mubarak era. (Reuters)
The law drafted by the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) on the regulation of the People’s Assembly and parliamentary elections has been a subject of heated debates in recent weeks. A coalition of various political forces wrapped up meetings this week, recommending that the SCAF-drafted law on the People’s Assembly be amended on several articles.
According to Gamal Zahran, a professor of economics and political science at Suez Canal University and former independent MP, “the coalition prepared a bill completely different from the one drafted by SCAF, including changes to as many as 40 articles.”
Zahran, however, indicated that the coalition agreed with SCAF’s law at least on one point, namely the necessity of maintaining the 47-year-old quota reserving 50 per cent of seats for representatives of workers and farmers in parliament. “We believe that this per cent could be maintained only after introducing certain modifications to the definitions of workers and farmers,” he argues.
Zahran indicated that the parliamentary deputies of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) exploited their monopoly in political life, giving themselves the right to violate the definitions of workers and farmers.
“Several rich NDP businessmen were able to join parliament as representatives of farmers and workers,” explains Zahran, “This was inspite of the fact that the definition of a farmer is one who toils on the land to grow crops and this is completely different from what businessmen do.”
Zahran also explained that the coalition’s bill recommended that the 20-year-old individual candidacy system be scrapped in favor of adopting a proportional party-list system. “This system does not come at the expense of independents because in each district there could be a list of independent candidates running on one ticket, as well as a list of party-based candidates,” said Zahran.
The coalition’s draft law also stipulates that elected deputies should devote themselves full-time to their parliamentary membership. “This means that all elected deputies must leave their jobs and give their full attention to their parliamentary business,” said Zahran, adding that “the draft law also states that elected deputies must be banned from carrying out any commercial or non-commercial activities.”
SCAF’s law does separate between parliamentary members and the business of deputies.
Zahran also indicated that the coalition’s draft law recommends that “the age of those eligible for running in parliamentary elections must be lowered from 30 to 25 years in a bid to inject new young blood into the ranks of parliament and give young members of the 25 January revolution’s movements a say in political and parliamentary life.”
The coalition’s draft law also brings Egypt’s constituencies to 75 from 222 right now and the number of the newly-elected People’s Assembly’s deputies would be lowered from 545 to 450.
This is the second time in two weeks that political forces have called for the amendment of several articles of the People Assembly’s law drafted by the SCAF. The first time was last week when the government-run National Consensus conference called for radical changes to SCAF’s law regulating the People’s Assembly. The Conference’s Electoral Systems Committee (ESC) recommended that the quota of 50 per cent of seats reserved for representatives of workers and farmers in parliament be scrapped entirely. It called for adopting a mix of two electoral systems: the individual and party-list systems. SCAF’s draft law stated that two thirds of seats must be elected via the individual candidacy system and the other third using the party-list system. The coalition asked for the opposite: two thirds via the party-list system and the other third by the individual candidacy system.
“We think that the individual candidacy system leads to the proliferation of vote-buying and violent practices and this is why it should be limited to a minimum,” said ESC’s chairman Amr Hashem Rabie.
ESC agreed with the coalition’s recommendation that the age of those eligible for running in parliamentary elections must be reduced from 30 to 25 years. SCAF’s law stated the age of 30 must be maintained.
The ESC and the coalition’s draft laws have called for giving Egyptian workers abroad the right to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections. The SCAF has stated that this critical issue must be postponed "because it needs a comprehensive review before it is put into effect.”
All amendments to the People’s Assembly law will be submitted to SCAF, which will have the final say, ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for September. Mamdouh Shahin, SCAF’s legal adviser, indicated that “SCAF decided to put its draft of the People’s Assembly law to a public debate in a bid to gain some kind of consensus and to refute charges that SCAF is only interested in imposing laws,” says Shahin.