Law amendments to pave the way for Egypt's presidential polls

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 28 Jan 2014

The decision to hold presidential elections first will require amending laws on presidential elections and the exercise of political rights

Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour (Photo: Reuters)

The overwhelming "yes" passage of a new constitution on 14 and 15 January paved the way for interim president Adli Mansour to announce on 26 January that Egypt's presidential elections would precede a parliamentary poll.

Mansour's move came after a surge in deadly clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood and police forces on the third anniversary of the 25 January Revolution on Saturday, leaving at least 64 people dead by Monday. Cairo's Security Directorate also suffered a bombing on 24 January claimed by the extremist Islamist movement Beit Al-Maqdis, which also shot down a military helicopter on 25 January in Sinai, leaving five army officers dead.

The week's wave of violence, however, was not mainly behind Mansour's decision to change the post-30 June political roadmap to announce presidential polls first. The decision was prompted by a series of "national dialogue" meetings, with the vast majority of participants urging Mansour to hold presidential polls before parliamentary.

Participants said they believed that an elected president in office would gain international acceptance, counter the Muslim Brotherhood’s allegations of lost legitimacy and put the country on the road to stability.

Mansour's move also came after demonstrations on the anniversary of 25th January Revolution at Cairo's Tahrir Square, asking defence minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to submit a presidential bid. El-Sisi was then promoted from a First Lieutenant-General to Field-Marshal on Monday.

Many expected that this step will be soon followed by El-Sisi's resignation from office and preparing for contesting presidential elections after the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said it considers the army chief's run for presidency "a mandate and an obligation."

Mansour's 26 January decision will require amendments of two key political laws: the 2005 law (no.174/2005) on presidential elections and the 1956 law on exercising political rights.

Law 174 was drafted after former president Hosni Mubarak decided to amend article 76 of the 1971's constitution, allowing direct multi-candidate presidential ballot for the first time in Egypt instead of the previous up or down referendum on a single presidential candidate. The law was amended again ahead of 2012's presidential ballot.

Mohamed Al-Shennawi, deputy chairman of the High Constitutional Court (HCC), indicated that as many as nine articles of law 174 could be amended to fit the newly-approved constitution.

Al-Shennawi said in a television interview on Sunday that article two will be amended to go in line with article 142 of the new constitution, requiring presidential hopefuls to secure the endorsement of 20 elected parliamentary deputies or a minimum of 25,000 citizens in at least 15 governorates, with a minimum 1,000 from each.

Article 2 of law 174 – and as amended in 2012 in a decree by an Islamist-drafted constitution – requires hopefuls to secure the signatures of 20 elected parliamentary deputies or a minimum of 20,000 citizens from at least 10 governorates with a minimum 1,000 from each.

Al-Shennawi indicated that "as presidential polls will be held first, the stipulation that 20 elected MPs can endorse a presidential hopeful will be ignored for now and as long as there is no parliament in session and without facing legal challenges or appeals."

The Presidential Election Commission (PEC) will issue "certified forms" to be used by hopeful candidates to collect endorsements. "Unlike the past when they were required to go to public notary officers to legally certify their endorsements, candidates will be obliged to use 'endorsement forms' issued and legally certified by PEC," explained Al-Shennawi.

Article 3 of the 2005 presidential ballot law will be completely annulled because it was eliminated by the new constitution. It allows political parties with one seat either in the People's Assembly (now the House of Representatives) or Shura Council (the upper house made defunct by the new constitution) to field one of their leading members in presidential elections.

The third amendment of 2005's law will also include article 5, which states that a 10-member (five judges plus five public figures) from the PEC supervise presidential polls.

According to article 228 of the new constitution, a five-member PEC (a purely judicial commission) should be formed to take charge of supervising the first post-2014 constitution's presidential polls and until a future National Electoral Commission (NEC) be created to be fully responsible for overseeing elections.

The PEC includes head of High Constitutional Court (HCC) as chairman; HCC's first deputy chairman; first deputy chairman of the Court of Cassation (the Highest Judicial Authority in Egypt); Chairman of Cairo's Appeals Court and the First Deputy Chairman of the State Council (administrative courts).

Al-Shennawi explains that under the existing presidential poll law, candidates cannot appeal decisions issued by the PEC. "But presidential Mansour has the option of either keeping this stipulation in place or changing it to make it possible for candidates to appeal the orders of PEC before the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC)," said Al-Shennawi, also explaining that "the newly-approved constitution allows presidential candidates appeal the orders of the future NEC before the Supreme Administrative Court.

Al-Shennawi, however, believes that PEC's orders should be kept final and immune to any appeals. "Allowing appeals in presidential elections could open hell’s gates, on top of which casting a shadow of illegitimacy over the elected president and fostering a climate of political turmoil and elusive stability," said Al-Shennawi.

Amendments of the 2005 presidential poll law could also extend to include articles 20, 21, 24, 26, and 30, which cover the regulation and monitoring of electoral campaigns by civil society organizations and the media.

On 26 January and in accordance with article 230 of the new constitution, interim president Mansour issued a presidential decree stating that presidential polls be held within a period of no less than 30 days and no more than 90 days from the date the new constitution was promulgated (on 18 January).

Al-Shennawi explained the PEC should begin the procedures of electing a new president within a period of no less than 30 days – or until sometime between 17 and 18 February – and no more than 90 days – or not after sometime between 17 and 18 April. "And then within the next six months – or until 18 October – parliamentary polls should be also held," said Al-Shennawi.

Al-Shennawi indicated that if "Field-Marshal El-Sisi wants to submit a presidential bid, he should do this before 17 or 18 February. "He should first resign from office and then insert his name in voter lists before 17 or 18 February in order to be eligible for standing in presidential elections."

The 1956 law on political rights stipulate that candidates must have their names put on voter lists in order to be eligible for running. "As a military man excluded from participating in political life, El-Sisi's name could not be on the voter lists unless he resigns or go into retirement," said Al-Shennawi.

Rumours were rampant on Monday that after he was promoted to the rank of field marshal, El-Sisi had already resigned and got the okay from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to run in presidential polls.

El-Sisi's nomination will go on in spite of threats issued by Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. "Yes, it will reinforce the argument of theirs and American media that El-Sisi overthrew ousted president Mohamed Morsi in a military coup," said Amr Al-Chobaki, an Ahram Political analyst. "But, we should not listen too much to these arguments."

"Remember that if we left us to the pressure of these forces, we would not have been able to disrupt Muslim Brotherhood's terrorist sit-ins in Cairo and Giza," said Al-Chobaki, adding that "remember also that people like Eisenhower in the US and Charles De Gaulle in France were elected presidents without the Western media raising much fuss that they belonged to the army." 

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