Draft law introducing mixed electoral system triggers intense debate

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 30 May 2011

A draft electoral law released yesterday by the Military Council for public debate is already drawing criticism from political and revolutionary forces

elections 2010
File photo showing ballot boxes being moved for counting in the 2010 parliamentary elections, described as among the worst in Egypt's history

Most of the opposition groups and young leaders of the 25 January Revolution have opened fire on the proposed legislative amendments to a 39-year-old law regulating parliamentary elections.

The proposed amendments, released yesterday evening by the Supreme Military Council, introduce a mixed system of individual candidacy and party-list proportional representation, which if approved would be adopted in the forthcoming elections of the People's Assembly – the lower house of Egypt's parliament, due in September. The draft proposed that the individual candidacy system will be adopted to elect two thirds of the Assembly’s seats, while the party-list system would be used to elect the remaining third.

The amendments to the 1972 law on the People’s Assembly also upholds the constitutionally set quota of 50 per cent of seats to be reserved for representatives of workers and farmers, and another quota of 64 seats for women. Mamdouh Shahin, a member of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), indicated that “the amendments refrained from revoking the quotas allocated for farmers, workers and women in parliament because this is not its job.” Shahin argued that “it is the job of the new parliament which will be entrusted with drafting a new constitution to decide whether the above quotas should be maintained or not.”

Shahin argued that the amendments adopted a mix of two candidacy systems “in order to allow independents and party-based candidates to run in each district.” He explained that “in each district, independents will be allowed to run either individually or on one ticket or list, while party-based candidates will run on lists of their own.”

Although Shahin indicated that the amendments of the People’s Assembly law will be subject to public discussion before it is finally ratified by SCAF, most political forces were quick to express a negative reaction. The majority of secular opposition parties stood united against the draft law, largely because of its maintaining of the individual candidacy system.

Rifaat El-Said, chairman of the leftist Tagammu party, argued that “the amendments send a very negative signal about reform in the next period because espousing the individual candidacy means that the new elections will produce a parliament dominated by businessmen and old guard MPs, as has been the case throughout Mubarak’s era.” El-Said also lamented that the amendments stopped short of imposing a ceiling on spending on election campaigns or a ban on raising religious slogans.

Joining forces with Al-Said, Sameh Ashour, chairman of the Nasserist party, wondered why “SCAF insists on maintaining the individual candidacy which had been largely responsible for the proliferation of vote-buying practices and thuggery and violence during the 30 years of Mubarak's rule."

Leaders of Muslim Brotherhood said they were not favouring a particular electoral system over another. “We are in support of a system which gains the broadest margin of approval from political forces,” said Saad El-Husseini, a member of the Brotherhood’s Higher Supreme Guidance Office.

The 25 January Revolution’s youth movements were highly vocal in criticising the proposed amendments. Tarek El-Khouly, spokesman for the 6th April Movement, said “the new amendments to the People's Assembly law are totally rejected by the movement because they are biased in favour of the individual candidacy system which was exploited by Mubarak's regime and ruling party to monopolise political life.”

The Coalition of the 25 January Revolution said that “the amendments represent a third insult to directed against political forces.” “For the third time,” argued Coalition member Mostafa Shawki, “SCAF goes against the will of political forces and the revolution's youth movements by imposing its will and refusing to consult them on amendments of political laws.” Shawki argued that “the amendments of political laws should be the fruit of a national dialogue among all political forces rather than the product of discussions behind SCAF's closed doors.” Shawki also argued that “the individual candidacy system will produce a new parliament dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood in the same way it produced parliaments controlled by Mubarak’s ruling party over the past 30 years.”

Shawki also laments that the amendments kept silent about the widespread demand that Egyptians living abroad should be granted the right to vote in the next parliamentary and presidential elections.

The objections of the January 25 Revolution's youth movements to the new People's Assembly law are expected to be the main subject of a big Tahrir Square rally planned next Friday.

Independent political analysts, however, were less critical of the proposed amendments. Amr Hashem Rabie, an Ahram political analyst and chairman of a national dialogue committee on reform of the electoral system, also deplores that “the amendments of the People's Assembly law were drafted without first consulting political forces.” Rabie, however, believes that “the amendments should be biased more in favour of the party-list system.” “I mean that they should have adopted the reverse: that two thirds of the seats of next parliament be elected via the party-list system rather than by the individual candidacy regulations,” argued Rabie, adding that “this will help a lot in eliminating the old rigging practices and election irregularities which were mainly caused by the individual candidacy system, and direct people to elect MPs according to their political programmes rather than tribal and familial connections or money considerations.”

Hussein Abdel-Razek, a leading member of the leftist Tagammu party, begs to differ with Rabie. “I believe that introducing a mix of two electoral systems will be make very complicated for citizens – millions of whom are illiterate – to elect their representatives in parliament. “I think that all political forces agree that there should a complete switch from  individual candidacy which was the hallmark of Mubarak's corrupt and despotic regime to a proportional party-list system which obligates citizens to elect candidates according to their platforms, ideology and programmes, all of which are good for advancing a democratic political climate and healthy parliamentary life in the next period,” said Abdel-Razek.

The amendments to the People's Assembly law are currently being discussed by a national dialogue committee. The committee, said Rabie, will take into account all the objections raised against the amendments and them make a copy of its own. “This copy will be submitted to SCAF which will have the final say about the law,” said Rabie.

Short link: