The Cabinet approved three bills on Wednesday that could allow the often-postponed parliamentary elections to finally take place. Ministers sent the draft laws to the State Council for review before they’re put to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for final approval.
The bills include the Political Participation Law, the Parliamentary Elections Law and the Electoral Constituency Law.
In March, the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled the last of those three laws unconstitutional, thus postponing even further an electoral process that had already been delayed several times. The court’s ruling said Article 3 of the Electoral Constituency Law failed to ensure equal representation for voters, in violation of the 2014 Constitution.
Constitutional Article 102 holds that “the division of constituencies shall be defined by the law, taking into account the fair representation of constituencies and governorates and the equitable representation of voters.”
This legislative package has been a hot-button issue in negotiations between Sisi’s administration and political parties, as several left-leaning political forces argue that even with the new amendments, the laws fail to garuantee the fairness and integrity of the parliamentary elections. Here, Mada Masr details the five major points of contention that form the basis of their arguments.
Individual seats vs party lists
The last version of the elections law allocated 420 parliamentary seats to individual candidates, and 120 seats to candidates running on electoral lists. In the bill approved this week, the Cabinet added an extra 22 parliamentary seats, but allocated them all to individual candidates, raising that number to 442, while the number of seats for party lists stays at 120.
Political forces argue that limiting the number of seats for MPs running on party lists means that political parties will have a weak presence in parliament, hindering their ability to take a more active role in legislation and thus enfeebling the political sphere as a whole.
The dominance of the individual seat system could empower candidates with traditional bases of support, such as money, power networks and tribal connections, which they could use to mobilize voters and thus turn the elections into a contest between personalities, not political platforms, warn opponents to the bill.
Furthermore, the parties’ 120 seats are only distributed across four constituencies, as opposed to the eight demanded by political parties. Critics argue that this will also hinder the parties’ organizational and financial capabilities, as it will be particularly challenging to campaign over such wide constituencies.
Political forces also claim that the four-constituency division does not fairly represent demographically marginalized voter blocs, especially those in the border governorates.
Open party lists vs closed party lists
The current bill has voters casting their ballots for party list candidates through closed lists, though political forces demanded an open party list system. In the closed party list, voters are only allowed to vote for a list of names in the order imposed by the party itself, while the open list system would allow voters to elect certain candidates on the list without being forced to respect any predetermined order of names.
Political parties say that the open list would open the door for under-represented social groups — like women, religious minorities, people with disabilities and the youth — to gain greater representation in parliament.
On March 7, the SCC ruled the ban on dual nationals running for parliament unconstitutional. Article 8 of the previous Elections Law states that parliamentary candidates must be Egyptian and have an Egyptian father, and cannot have dual citizenship. But Article 102 of the Constitution dictates that candidates must be of Egyptian citizenship, without barring dual citizens from running.
Ultra-nationalist political parties, most of whom side with Sisi’s administration, objected to the SCC ruling, claiming that permitting dual nationals to run for office would represent a serious threat to national security. They argue that allowing citizens with “multiple loyalties” into the parliament, especially if they hold nationalities of countries that are “enemies” of Egypt, could be gravely dangerous.
Transitional Justice Minister Ibrahim al-Heneidy has maintained that the Interior Ministry would have to grant security clearance to any dual nationals who wished to run for parliament, but fear of potential danger persists.
Ceiling on electoral campaign funding
Critics of the new bill also fear that it lacks the appropriate mechanisms for observing and monitoring campaign funding. Political parties with limited financial resources warn that wealthy parties and well-connected individual candidates could use political money to buy votes and bribe their way into office.
The absence of these mechanisms threatens equal opportunities for the spectrum of political forces, critics say, and could leave a looming threat of dissolution over the to-be-elected parliament, if the courts were later to find that campaign funding in the elections was unconstitutional.
On a more general note, political parties and independent observers object to the political climate leading up to the elections. Critics warn that a recent bevy of harsh legislation, such as the Protest Law, NGO Law and Terrorism Law, as well as a severe crackdown on freedoms of expression, association and the press, all represent a critical impediment to the legitimacy and fairness of the entire political process.