Members of Egypt's constitution committee meet at the Shura Council in Cairo September 11, 2012(Photo: Reuters)
In a plenary session Sunday, the Islamist-led upper house of Egypt's parliament, the Shura Council, currently endowed with legislative powers, approved that the House of Representatives — Egypt’s lower house parliament and formerly named the People's Assembly — be increased by 42 seats, from 546 to 588.
According to Hatem Bagato, the newly-appointed minister for parliamentary affairs, the increase was necessary to align to the orders of the High Constitutional Court (HCC) that stated there must be fair representation of citizens in the upcoming parliament.
“The [HCC], in a report to Shura Council on 25 May, said the distribution of seats in the upcoming parliament was not made fair for seven governorates by the House law,” said Bagato, adding that “as a result, each of these seven governorates will be increased by six seats, [adding] a total of 42 seats.”
The affected electoral districts include the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, the three upper Egypt governorates of Al-Minya, Sohag and Aswan, the two Nile Delta governorates of El-Shariqya and Damietta, and the Suez Canal governorate of Ismailia.
Bagato explained that the redrawing of electoral districts and the increase in number of seats in seven governorates was promoted by certain considerations. “These include the distribution of population in these governorates and the geographical proximity of districts,” he said.
Bagato also indicated that out of 588 seats, two thirds will be elected via the party list system, while one third will be reserved for independent candidates. “The party list system will include 98 districts designed to produce 488 party-based deputies, while one hundred independents will be elected in 50 districts,” said Bagato.
The increase in number of seats of the yet to be elected House of Representatives is the third in one year. At first, the number was put at 498, then increased to be 546 and then further boosted to 588. The change in number of seats was introduced upon the orders of the HCC which is empowered by the new constitution with the right to scrutinise political laws on the basis of their constitutionality.
Bagato said he had high hopes that the new increase in parliamentary seats will be endorsed by the HCC after it ensured that citizens in different governorates will be represented fairly in parliament and that electoral districts are almost equal in geographical size.
Chairman of the Shura Council Ahmed Fahmi indicated that amendments of the 1972 law regulating the election of the lower house of parliament will be referred back to the HCC to revise based on whether they are compatible with the constitution.
Fahmi also referred last week’s amendments of the 1956 law on exercise of political rights back to the HCC. The Shura Council decided that voting rights for military and police personnel be delayed to the 1 July 2020. The HCC said these two constituencies must not be stripped of exercising their voting rights.
The council’s Sunday session also endorsed a proposal by Essam El-Erian, the parliamentary spokesman of Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), stating that once the amendments are approved by the HCC and go in effect as election law, "the new polls of the House of Representatives are to be held within 60 days.”
The council, in accordance with the HCC’s orders, also imposed a ban on the use of religious slogans during parliamentary elections. The court said the use of religious slogans violates the principle of national unity enshrined in the constitution.
The amendments also stated that the expenses of electoral campaigning must not exceed LE600,000 in the first round, and that in case of a run-off, the amount could not exceed LE150,000.
Sobhi Saleh, the FJP’s member of the council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, also indicated that in accordance with the remarks of the HCC, the law was amended to strip the president of the republic of having any hand in regulating parliamentary elections.
“We amended the law after the HCC stated that the Higher Elections Commission (HEC) must have the upper hand in regulating and supervising parliamentary elections from A to Z, to ensure impartiality and the integrity of the polls,” Saleh said.