Making votes count

Gamal Essam El-Din , Friday 19 May 2023

Reform of Egypt’s current electoral system dominated National Dialogue sessions this week.

National Dialogue sessions
National Dialogue sessions


After months of preparation, the National Dialogue’s political, economic, and social committees began with sessions scheduled for Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

On Sunday, the political committee featured four sessions focusing on the electoral system and discrimination, each attended by around 600 people. Representatives from political parties took two sessions to discuss the best electoral system for parliamentary elections due in 2025, with speakers divided over whether a closed list or proportional system was most appropriate.

Opposition parties backed the adoption of an unconditional proportional list system in electing members of the House of Representatives and Senate, arguing that it is in line with the constitution and will help political parties and marginalised forces like women and young people gain representation.

Wafd Party representative Yasser Al-Hodeibi said there is a consensus among opposition parties that an unconditional proportional list system should be adopted in 2025 in order to “promote the role of political parties and their platforms and help them secure a larger foothold in parliament.”

Mohamed Abdel-Ghani, representative of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, said the solution to Egypt’s political and economic problems depends on the success of the National Dialogue in introducing radical change of the existing electoral system.

“The closed list system has proved a failure and led to the demise of many political parties because they were unable to secure a place in parliament,” he said.

The closed list system, in use in Egypt since 2015, allows the party that wins a simple majority of votes in a constituency to take all that area’s seats. 

MP Diaaeddin Dawoud said that while he favoured the proportional list system, just changing the rules of elections will not be enough to reinvigorate political life.

 “We need to recognise that that the general public are far from satisfied with the performance of the current parliament. Egypt desperately needs credible political parties and they will only emerge by changing the laws that regulate parliamentary elections, political parties and press and media freedoms,” said Dawoud.

Abdel-Aziz Al-Shenawi, representative of the opposition Justice (Adl) Party, said the current closed list system allows only the most heavily resourced political parties and candidates to enter parliament. 

Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie argued the closed list system skewed political representation and could theoretically disenfranchise half of Egypt’s voting population minus one by allocating all seats to the winner of a simple majority.

Pro-government political parties were firmly in favour of closed lists. Alaa Abed, deputy chairman of the pro-government parliamentary majority party Mostaqbal Watan, said he supports maintaining the current system because it allows only strong parties to join parliament and allows voters to focus on election platforms rather than individuals.

“Due to the adoption of a mixed system of individual candidacy and closed party list in the 2020 parliamentary elections, we now have more than 11 political parties in parliament,” he said.

Mostaqbal Watan’s Parliamentary Spokesperson Ashraf Rashad argued that a mixed system guarantees political stability while a proportional list system probably violated the constitution which stipulates that certain groups, such as women and youth, be allocated a fixed quota of seats. He warned that the proportional list system, though it might work well in some other countries, could be invalidated by the Supreme Constitutional Court.

Mahmoud Fawzi, secretary-general of the National Dialogue, suggested that while proportional representation might make it easy for political parties to join parliament, it could hamper the exercise of parliament’s legislative roles. “A parliament with representatives from many political parties will make it difficult to reach a consensus on legislations,” he cautioned.

Rashad and Fawzi’s arguments faced strong objections from Rabie and other opposition forces.

“A proportional list system is in line with Article 102 of the constitution which states that elections shall be held via the individual system, the list system or a combination of both,” said Rabie. “The closed list system has been exploited to create toothless rubber-stamp parliaments, opening the doors for loyalists, wealthy businessmen and relatives to sweep the elections and win seats.”

The dialogue’s General Coordinator Diaa Rashwan said supporters of each electoral system should submit their recommendations in written form within one week to the dialogue’s board of trustees.

“Whether participants end up choosing one election system or more than one system, their suggestions will be submitted to the president so that he can direct the government to turn them into legislation to be debated and voted by parliament,” said Rashwan.

Rashwan also revealed that Moataz Al-Shennawi, a member of the Justice Party, has submitted a draft law to establish an anti-discrimination commission to the dialogue’s Committee on Human Rights and Public Freedoms.

“The role of this commission will be to spread the culture of human rights and free citizenship, end all forms of discrimination, achieve equality among citizens, and find peaceful solutions,” said Al-Shennawi.

The proposed commission will be fully independent, with a board including judges, heads of the syndicates of lawyers and journalists, chairs of the National Human Rights Council, the National Council for Women, two heads of political parties and representatives of religious minorities. 

A version of this article appears in print in the 18 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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