New electoral law unwelcome across Egypt's political spectrum

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 21 Jul 2011

Two new laws aimed at regulating the elections of Egypt's two houses of parliament have been met with wide scale criticism from across the political spectrum

Parliamentary elections
Ballot boxes on their way to counting stations during Egypt's 2010 parliamentary elections (file photo)

After long deliberations and much delay, the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has endorsed the amendments of two laws aimed at regulating the elections of the two houses of parliament – the People’s Assembly and Shura Council.

On 20 July, Major General Mamdouh Shahin, the SCAF’s legislative advisor, told a news conference that the new amendments adopted a mix of two election systems:  the individual candidacy and party-list. 
"Half of the seats of each house will be elected via individual candidacy, while the other half will come through the party-list," said Shahin, indicating that "two parties are allowed to compete in the election under one list."
He said each party must achieve a threshold of half a per cent of the vote in order to be eligible to join parliament. 
"This is far less than the 1980s’ 8 per cent or the earlier proposed 2 per cent threshold, making it much easier for all parties to join parliament,” said Shahin.
The mix of two election systems, however, goes against the will of the majority of political parties, headed by the liberal-oriented Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party. Both insist that the individual candidacy process be scrapped and the party-list system adopted entirely. 
To them, the party-list system forces citizens to elect representatives on the grounds of their political platforms rather than on tribal or familial connections.
Ayman Nour, leader of the Ghad party and a member of a democratic coalition including more than 20 parties, said: “Keeping the individual candidacy system in place is a very bad development. It means that the election law amendments proposed by the coalition were ignored by the SCAF".
According to Nour, most political parties think the individual candidacy system was largely responsible for the proliferation of election fraud, irregularities, vote-buying and acts of thuggery wintessed during ousted President Hosni Mubarak's era. 
"The maintenance of this system could help bring back to parliament most of the officials and corrupt businessmen of Mubarak’s defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) who corrupted [Egypt's] political life," argues Nour.
Much to the dismay of most political parties – especially liberal-oriented ones -- Shahin announced that the two laws will respect the 47-year-old principle that 50 per cent of seats in parliament be reserved for representatives of workers and farmers. Shahin indicated the elimination of this quota is not the job of the SCAF. 
"This should be the collective will of political activists and MPs when they meet to draft a new constitution after the election,” said Shahin. 
Liberal parties such as Al-Ghad and Al-Wafd, however, believe that "the 50 per cent quota for workers and farmers reflect the socialist ideology of the autocratic Nasserist age in Egypt in the 1960s."
Nour argued: "this quota was exploited by different regimes to flood parliament with loyal deputies and now it is high time to get rid of it altogether."
Leftists such as the Nasserist and Tagammu parties, however, believe that the 50 per cent quota of seats allocated to representatives of workers and farmers should be maintained, but only after revising the definitions of who are workers and farmers. 
Rifaat El-Said, leader of the Tagammu, argued that “it is true that many deputies in previous parliaments were not truly representing workers and farmers, but this is not a sufficient cause to eliminate this quota altogether."
Shahin said "the People’s Assembly – Egypt’s lower house – will be comprised of 504 deputies." This is, added Shahin, not to mention that 10 more will be appointed by the President of the Republic. 
This will bring the total number of MPs in the coming parliament to 514, compared with 545 in the outgoing parliament. Shahin also indicated that the election of the People’s Assembly will be held in 184 districts, 126 of which covered by the individual candidacy system and 58 by party-lists.
As for the upper consultative house, the Shura Council, Shahin indicated that the number of its members will increase to 390, two thirds of whom are elected and one third appointed by the president of the republic. 
The number of Shura Council members currently stands at 264, a third of whom are appointed by the president. Shahin indicated the election of Shura Council will be held in 93 districts, 65 of which are covered by the individual candidacy system and 28 by party-lists.
Many political parties believe that the Shura Council should be eliminated altogether. Nour wondered that "instead of eliminating it, we are surprised that the number of its members has been increased substantially."
Shahin says that the SCAF has agreed that the minimum age of those eligible for standing in the People’s Assembly elections be reduced from 30 to 25. 
"This is to help inject new blood into the People’s Assembly and encourage members of the youth movements of the 25th January revolution to join the lower house," said Shahin. 
As for those who stand in Shura Council elections, Shahin indicated they should be no younger than 35.
According to Shahin, the actual preparations for the elections of the two houses of parliament will begin at the end of September. 
"As for the vote,” said Shahin, "it will begin at least 30 days later to give enough time for newly-established parties build a good base of support on the street and among citizens, and also to allow civil society monitors to better oversee the process."
Shahin, however, said the SCAF is against any kind of international supervision or monitoring of Egypt’s parliamentary election. 
"This is by no means accepted because it comes at the expense of Egyptian sovereignty," argued Shahin. He, however, indicated that the election will be fully supervised by judges.
According to Shahin, "the army vowed the vote will be fair and transparent and will be placed under full judicial supervision." He indicated that "the army’s role will be confined to guarding polling stations against assaults or acts of thuggery, but it is the judiciary who will take full control of supervising and monitoring the election process from the beginning to the end."
This signals a return to judicial supervision which was implemented during the 2000 and 2005 elections, resulting in increasing the number of opposition MPs, especially Islamist ones, in parliament.
A Higher Electoral Commission (HEC) will take full control of the elections, with all of its members belonging to the judiciary. HEC will meet on 18 September to begin preparing the country for the first post-25th January Revolution’s parliamentary election.
Shahin explained that the election will be held over three stages, with 15 days between each. "In each stage, the election will be held in a number of governorates," he said.
Most opposition parties generally welcome full judicial supervision of the election. Some, however, are worried that international monitors will be prevented from participating in overseeing the polls. 
Mostafa Kamel El-Sayed, a political science professor, said "the SCAF has espoused the Mubarak’s regime's discourse that international monitors are against national sovereignty and this is wrong."
El-Sayed maintains the opposite is true. 
"International monitoring gives an important signal to the outside world that Egypt has at last begun moving towards democratic rule and that it has no fears that foreign monitors come to oversee the election," he said.
Short link: