National Dialogue: Fifth week

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 2 Aug 2023

The National Dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi resumed activities this week after a three-week recess.

National Dialogue: Fifth week
Participants agreed local council elections must be held as soon as possible


Since its inauguration on 3 May, the dialogue has brought together political forces, civil society groups, unions, and professional syndicates in an attempt to reach a consensus on national priorities.

On Sunday, the dialogue’s Political Committee reviewed the 2014 law on the exercise of political rights. Committee head Alieddin Hilal explained that legislation regulating political rights was first introduced in 1956 and has been amended several times since. In 2014, a new political rights law was passed regulating “voting rights, the performance of the National Election Authority, voter lists, election campaigning, donations, media coverage, opinion polls, polling stations and election crimes.”

He recommended it now be amended to further democratise the election process, increase voter turnout and create greater political openness. “The more democratic and transparent the law regulating voting and candidacy procedures, the more it gives credibility and legitimacy to the election process,” said Hilal.

The committee’s rapporteur Mohamed Abdel-Ghani noted that low voter turnout had blighted recent elections, arguing that the current law hampers the ability of citizens to actively participate in political life. “It is high time that the relevant legislation be amended to facilitate more rights when it comes to voting, campaigning and media coverage,” he said.

He cautioned, however, that amending the political rights law alone will not be enough to create competitive elections. “We have three laws —regulating political rights, political parties and the election of the House of Representatives and the Senate — all of which need to be modified to revitalise political life and activate participation in the election process,” he said.

Salah Adli, chairman of the Egyptian Communist Party, attributed low voter turnout to the absence of credible opposition forces.

 “Any amendments to the law will remain ineffective as long as opposition forces are prevented from acting freely and there are political prisoners who are serving prison sentences.” He warned that “adopting a closed party list system will further discourage citizens from participating in elections.”

Senator Mohamed Azmi called for the introduction of electronic voting which he said would streamline the process of casting a vote, facilitate a faster and more accurate count and increase voter turnout.

State Council judge Abdallah Al-Moghazi also supported e-voting, pointing to its successful introduction by the United Arab Emirates.

Azmi’s idea won the backing of dialogue General Coordinator Diaa Rashwan who said it would increase the participation of Egyptian expats.

“There are 10 million Egyptian expats of whom just 350,000 tend to vote in elections,” said Rashwan.

Rashwan also urged the state to consider making election days national holidays, to introduce a fine of LE500 for registered voters who do not exercise their polling rights and amend Article 29 of the law to ensure media coverage of elections observes equality among candidates.

“The National Election Authority should make it easier for the media to cover elections, interview candidates, conduct opinion polls and enter polling stations to observe the voting process,” said Rashwan.

Mohamed Salah Abu Himila, spokesperson of the Humat Watan (Protectors of the Nation) Party, called for Article 25 to be amended to raise the ceiling of spending on election campaigns.

“When the law was drafted in 2014, it allowed an individual system candidate to spend LE500,000, and a 15-candidate party list LE2.5 million. These amounts should be revised to reflect inflation,” said Abu Himila.

He also called for tighter control on what he characterised as “election bribes — money not reported to the National Election Authority the sole aim of which is to prevent fair competition among candidates.”

He also argued that the ceiling on donations, currently set at no more than five per cent of election campaign costs, should be increased to 25 per cent.

Human Rights Party Chair Gamal Al-Tohami called for Article 2 to be amended to allow citizens who have not performed military service to stand in elections.

National Dialogue Secretary-General Mahmoud Fawzi pointed out that Article 102 of the constitution does not stipulate that a candidate should have performed military service to be eligible to become a candidate.

Political activist Bassel Adel argued that Article 50 of the law should be changed to shorten the “within five days” stipulated for judges supervising polling stations to declare a result. “This will increase transparency and build confidence between judges, candidates and voters,” he said.

Sunday’s meetings also saw further discussion on the legislative framework regulating local councils. A majority of participants agreed local council elections must be held as soon as possible.

Al-Geel (The Generation) Party leader Nagy Al-Shehabi said any new local council law should stipulate whether governors are elected or appointed, and define the powers of governors and deputy governors and the role of city and village councils.

Adel Labib, a former governor of Alexandria, argued that “as public employees implementing state policies governors should be appointed.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 3 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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