The most notable change in the new Egyptian parliament is that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) now controls nearly 90 per cent of the seats, leaving the few remaining seats to opposition parties and independents.
A second noteworthy feature of this newly elected parliament is the absence of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) representatives. After holding a large 88-member bloc in the last parliament, the MB won only one seat in the 2010-2015 Parliament. This poor result demonstrates that the group actually wields little influence over the Egyptian political scene, contrary to claims voiced in recent years. The result also indicates that the MB ought to closely reexamine its performance in the public realm – both inside and outside of parliament. The group should reinvent itself along new lines if it wishes to be a credible political player in a civilian republic system – a system which the majority of Egyptians have adopted.
While most significant features of the new parliament refer to changes, the third feature refers to numerical stagnation – namely, the relatively unchanged number of representatives among the ranks of the opposition. In the previous parliament, the Wafd, Tagammu and Al-Ghad held ten seats, but now the opposition parties hold a combined 12 seats, achieving an insignificant increase in real political terms. Indeed, the election results imply that neither their influence nor their popularity have risen in years.
Altogether, these three characteristics illustrate that the true achievement of the 2010 elections belongs to the NDP. The party was able to secure a firmer grip, which came at a server loss for the MB but not at the expense of independent candidates or other opposition groups. This has been the NDP's plan since witnessing MB gains in 2005, and indeed the ruling party has succeeded.
Some pundits and analysts will say that if it were not for the 30 MB and Wafd candidates who withdrew from the race, the composition of the new parliament would be different. Theoretically, they are correct, but even if all 30 candidates were elected in place of NDP members, this would have little impact on the dynamics of parliamentary life and would only marginally change the Assembly's composition, dropping the NDP majority from a dominating 90 per cent to a dominating 85 per cent.
The structure and features of the new People's Assembly have immense political implications and raise many questions about the future.The election results have brought on three main challenges, namely the opposition – how it will work and who its members will be; the issue of the Assembly's legitimacy and expectation that the only way to address electoral violations is by dissolving parliament; finally, the relationship between parliamentary elections and the presidential elections slated for the last quarter of 2011.
In light of the NDP's overwhelming majority, any talk of effective opposition, capable of altering legislation and supervising the government is delusional. But though a ten per cent bloc can do little to affect legislation, it can play a role in effectively expressing strong objections so as to pass some important amendments and in influencing public opinion. But to be influential and effective, the opposition parties and independent representatives should not be side-tracked by marginal issues. This is the only way for them to play part in the parliamentary political reality.
After the 2005 elections, a theory was half-heartedly discussed based on the fact that the NDP represents a general political framework incorporating a cross-section of Egyptian society that does not always see eye-to-eye on social, political and economic issues. Accordingly, it was suggested that the party should split into two large political parties, echoing the American Republican-Democratic divide. The parties would then have power rotations as a normal event that would keep the Egyptian regime stable.
Such a development would be a dramatic breakthrough for democracy and may be a model for political transformation, moving from a domineering party structure. This change would not mean a split but rather a political transition based on two broad visions with mass appeal. It would allow voters to opt for a party which shares their outlook more specifically, rather than an oversized, over-aggregating umbrella group with contradictory ideas and concepts.
Those who champion the idea do not call for an immediate dissolution of other parties like the Wafd, namely, perhaps, because they believe these parties will continue to have only limited membership and little influence in the political arena. They instead suggest a gradual process by which these parties fade away into the other two big parties.
Some expect the NDP to now make some of its own parliamentarians play the role of the opposition during debates (though not during voting). And indeed in the past we have witnessed NDP MPs who voluntarily spoke out against some party agendas. If some NDP members do in fact oppose some party legislation, this could be a precursor to the split-up theory, demarcating broad lines that may result in the creation of two large political parties. I believe political observers in Egypt must seriously consider this option, which seems to be supported by the recent election results.
A second question remains regarding the possibility of dissolving the parliament due to electoral violations, which at times were shocking and inexcusable. Some cite theses violations to dispute the election results and the new parliament's legitimacy, demanding that the results be annulled and that new elections be held. Others argue that few violations do not warrant the Assembly's dissolution, especially as the Supreme Election Committee investigates ballot legitimacy on a case by case basis.
To dissolve parliament, opposition whims and gimmicks are not enough and such a decision must be made by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which bases its rulings on laws regulating the electoral process itself – nothing else. As long as matters have not come to this, the legitimacy of the elected parliament will remain uncontested.