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Thursday, 06 May 2021

Absent popular eye: Waiting for local councils

Since local councils were dissolved 10 years ago, a new law regulating municipal elections hasn’t seen the light, leading to the absence of a popular supervisory authority

Maryam Abdel-Hay, Monday 5 Apr 2021
Absent popular eye
Absent popular eye
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Ten years after the disbandment of local councils, Egypt remains without a law that regulates municipal elections. The absence of local councils has left a void in Egypt’s political scene.

Local councils were dissolved in 2011 following the 25 January Revolution. The current constitution, promulgated in 2014 and amended in 2019, states in Article 242 that “the existing local administration system continues to be used until the system stipulated in the constitution is gradually implemented within five years of its date of entry into force”.

Meanwhile, Article 180 defines the percentage of seats allocated for women and farmers in local councils. “The law regulates other conditions for candidacy and procedures of election, provided that one-quarter of the seats are allocated to youth under 35 years old, and one-quarter for women, while workers and farmers are represented by no less than 50 per cent of the total number of seats.”

To date, parliament has dedicated multiple sessions to the local administration law. Despite the presentation of several bills on the subject, drafted by MPs and the government, none have been approved.

Throughout the past five years, parliament has been debating a local administration bill presented by the government. The bill is comprised of 156 articles divided into four chapters. The lack of agreement on the rules of electing local councils, the definitions of farmers and workers, and the appropriate minimum age for appointing governors is the reason the draft has been stalled under the parliamentary dome.

That it is taking too long for the local administration law to see the light drove some observers to propose the urgency of drafting a new law altogether.

Local administration is the third branch of the executive authority after the president of the republic and the government. The constitution devotes a chapter to local councils, organising the mechanism for dividing the state into administrative units, including governorates, cities, and villages, provided that each administrative unit has an independent budget. The law which regulates the conduct of local elections has been repeatedly stalled.

Egypt’s last local elections were held in 2008.

Mohamed Nour, a professor of political science, said the 2014 constitution commits the state to issue a new law for local councils, not only for legislative reasons, but also because local councils are the only outlet for citizens to exercise the right to democracy. Such councils are the tool for monitoring the executive authority and measuring people’s satisfaction with the local authorities, Nour added.

Mustafa Al-Saadawi, a professor of law, stated that one of the most important aspects of the new local administration bill is the establishment of an executive council in each neighbourhood, to be led by the head of the district and the membership of their deputy, police warden, and the secretary of the district who acts as the secretary-general of the council.

The new local administration bill organises the financial resources of governorates in order to be able to maximise their resources. The bill stipulates that each governorate should have an independent budget, a condition that was not regulated by previous laws, Al-Saadawi added.

The proposed amendments to the law from 2016 to 2020 were not implemented or discussed in a public parliamentary session, which is why they were not affected, Nour said.

He said he believed other reasons the law hasn’t seen the light of day include the fact that the government has not decided on the selection method, be it through election or appointment. Nour posed two more questions: is the state ready to transfer power to local units, in a move towards implementing decentralisation? And, will it allocate independent budgets to local administrations as stated in the constitution?

Therefore, Nour added, there are doubts that the state is ready to transfer such powers to local authorities and hence hasn’t settled on the mechanisms of issuing the law.

The absence of local administrations has led to a host of problems for citizens, such as those related to unemployment, cleanliness, healthcare, security, education, and road networks, which local councils are responsible for, Al-Saadawi said.

Nour said these problems are being exacerbated due to the absence of local councils whose responsibilities include holding officials responsible for villages, neighbourhoods, and cities accountable. In addition, local council officials are also not held accountable, leading people to believe they don’t have an effective role to play and that officials can only be held accountable by those who appoint them in the absence of a popular supervisory authority.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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