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Monday, January 5, 2015

Egypt’s upcoming Parliamentary elections to be held in March 2015 according to the new electoral law

Egyptian Parliament
(Image: Geo-Entrepreneurs)
After Egypt’s Islamist-dominated Lower House of Parliament (People’s Assembly) was dissolved due to the Court decision in 2012 just before Mohamed Morsi took office Egypt has been without Parliament till now. The Upper House of Parliament, Shura Council, has adopted the new electoral law transforming People’s Assembly into House of Representatives and imposing significant amendments to the nature of the new Parliament and the electoral process and system.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has declared in his statement in December 2014 that the new Parliamentary elections are expected to be held in March 2015. Thus, Egyptians will head to the polling stations in order to finally choose legislative body.

Thus, the former People’s Assembly (Lower House of Parliament) was transformed into the House of Representatives, according to the new document adopted by the Shura Council in April 2013. This document in its turn regulates the performance and election of the MPs of the new Parliament and their numbers, it also defines electoral districts and conditions allowing the citizens to participate in the elections. In addition to that, the new law includes also some voting regulations.

According to the new electoral law the House of Representatives is comprised of 567 members. 420 of them are individual candidates, while 120 other MPs are to be elected according to the closed party lists. Meanwhile, 5% of those seats, what makes 27 MPs, will be appointed by the President upon recommendations of the state councils, professional syndicates and other respective bodies.

Talking about the difference of the new electoral system imposed in Egypt it’s worth mentioning that is differs significantly from the one that was in power in 2011-2012, after January 25 Revolution, when nearly two third of the seats in the Parliament were allocated according to the closed proportional lists and one third of the remaining seats went to the individual candidates; and it also differs from the electoral system which was in power during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, when the actually individual candidates’ system resulted in a total dominance of the Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi
(Image: NDTV)
The 2015 Parliamentary elections will be held according to the mixed electoral system, with the majority of the seats allocated between the individual candidates and the rest of the seats either taken by the MPs elected according to the closed lists or to the MPs appointed by the President.

It’s worth mentioning that individual candidates are elected on an independent basis. In addition to that, party members can also participate in the elections as individual candidates, while the non-party candidates can form their own lists.

The system of the individual candidates’ voting was strongly criticized and opposed by many Egyptian political parties, figures and experts, as they claim that some wealthy businessmen and influential persons, probably even affiliated with the previous regimes or Muslim Brotherhood, could use their financial assets, positions, connection and influence in order to get into the new Parliament as individuals. That opens the doors for the clans and corruption in power.

In addition to that, the smaller size of the electoral districts and the bigger number of the individual MPs, not connected to some particular parties and not representing some party ideology, could result in little unity and confidence in the future Parliament, and the MPs would be likely concentrating more on the local issues rather than on the global ones, claim the critics of the individual candidates’ electoral system.

Though officials supporting this system claim that it will allow the MPs to establish closer cooperation and connection with public, what will allow to work more productive on the local issues and resolving local problems.

As for the other part of the MPs of the future Parliament, they will be elected according to the closed party lists system. It means that the voters can choose only the full party list rather than a certain candidate. It’s also worth mentioning that the list should be absolute, what means that the list that will gain the absolute majority of the votes (50+1) will win all the seats in the electoral district. So, if the party wins more than 51% of the votes, it will get all the seats, while other parties will be excluded regardless of their results.

Egyptians standing in lines at their polling stations during the
2011 parliamentary elections
(Image: The Guardian)
The stances on the closed party lists system are also different and controversial. Political parties, figures and experts who are against this electoral system claim that it can squander the votes and it also fails to provide fair representation of all the political parties, as the old parties with bigger financial abilities and connections will get probably more chances than those recently created. Though there are also supporters of this system, declaring that it will help to avoid candidates of the currently banned Muslim Brotherhood getting into Parliament.

Speaking about the electoral system it’s worth mentioning that critics of the currently imposed one are mostly in favor of an open party lists’ system, when the voters can choose a certain candidate or even several candidates from different party lists, and of a proportional lists, when the seats are allocated based on the votes of each list or a candidate. Such a system can allow providing fair representation of political forces during the election and in the future Parliament as well.

Another important issue regarding the new electoral law is representation of women, farmers and workers, youth and minorities in the Parliament. According to the new regulations among the 120 seats for the parties there should be at least 56 women, 24 Coptic Christians, 16 farmers and workers, 16 youth, 8 Egyptian expats and 8 people with the special needs, while at least half of 27 MPs appointed by the President should be also women, what differs from the previous parliamentary election’s regulations.

Some changes apply also for the forming and division of the electoral districts in Egypt. Thus, there will be 237 constituencies for the individual candidates throughout the country, of different size. Some of the constituencies will get one seat only; some others will get two or three seats. Among them constituencies nationwide will be created for the closed party lists’ voting. Two of them will comprise of 45 seats each, while other two will comprise of 15 seats respectively. It’s worth mentioning also that there are serious concerns about fair and balanced representation of individual candidates and number of their seats in proportion to the numbers of votes in the newly created electoral districts.

Thus, the new electoral system makes it actually difficult for a politic party to get a sizeable bloc in the Parliament, so the new chamber will be dominated by the individual candidates with poor representation of political ideologies, what could result in an unstable legislature, according to the experts criticizing the amendments to the electoral law.

Egyptian lady voting during the parliamentary election in Egypt
(Image: Haaretz)
Another aspect of the new electoral law includes defining of the powers and responsibilities of the House of Representatives, that include actually legislative authority, the authority of reviewing the laws issued since the ouster of the Islamist backed President Mohamed Morsi, approving changes and reshuffles in the Cabinet of Ministers, approving presidential pardons, ratifying presidential decisions and decrees and presidential appointments of the government’s members, independent state bodies’ members and also removal of the government. In addition to that Parliament is also entitled to withdraw confidence from President through the national referendum. If the majority of citizens will vote in favor of such a decision of the Parliament President will be forced to step down, but if the people will support President, Parliament will be dissolved and the early parliamentary elections will be declared.

Thus, the new parliamentary elections to be held according to the new electoral law are expected to take place in March 2014. They will be also monitored by the local and foreign monitors from the non-governmental democracy and human rights organizations and also by the foreign embassies and electoral delegations.