With four months to go until Egypt’s parliamentary elections, legislative consultants are introducing a number of political reforms. Yehia El-Gamal, Egypt’s deputy prime minister who is in charge of charting legislative amendments, has indicated that a new package of political legislative amendments will be soon ratified by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to create a more competitive climate ahead of the elections next September. “This list of amendments will first be the subject of a broad national dialogue and will be ratified only after we reach a kind of national consensus on them,” said El-Gamal.
Topping this list is the amendment to the 1956 law on the exercise of political rights – widely known as Election Law. El-Gamal explained that the amendment will allow citizens to vote using their identity cards. “This is not to mention that the law also states that Egyptians living abroad will be able to vote because it is their right to have a say in elections – be they presidential or parliamentary,” added El-Gamal.
The deputy prime minister also indicated that the amendments will refrain from finalising the electoral system to be adopted in the parliamentary elections. “We know that most political forces are divided over what system should be adopted: either maintaining the individual candidacy system or shifting towards the slate system which obligates citizens to select from a list of party-based candidates.”
He did, however, say that “there could a mix between the individual and slate systems and in this way citizens will have two lists of party-based and independent candidates to choose from.”
Most political parties believe that keeping the individual candidacy system in place will only serve to help the Muslim Brotherhood and the diehards of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s defunct National Democratic Party (NDP). Gamal Zahran, a professor of political science at Suez Canal University and a former independent MP, told Ahram Online that “the individual systems helps candidates with strong tribal and familial connections, not to mention that it causes the proliferation of acts of thuggery.” Zahran argues that “it is better to shift towards a system of proportional representation. In this system, candidates will be selected on the grounds of their political skills, popularity and proficiency rather than upon tribal, familial and personal connections.”
The new amendments of the political rights law do not change the constitutional stipulation that 50 per cent of seats in parliament must be reserved for those representing workers and farmers. There also remains a quota of seats for women candidates.
Also in need of immediate amendment is the 2005 law regulating presidential elections. This law was passed to comply with the notorious amendment of article 76 in January 2005. The law contained strict conditions which made it almost impossible for all but a handful of legally licenced political parties to field presidential candidates.
According to El-Gamal, it is now a necessity that this law be amended to accommodate the new conditions stipulated by the Constitutional Declaration announced by SCAF on 30 March. “The Declaration states that candidates aiming to run in presidential elections must first collect signatures from 30,000 citizens from at least 15 governorates in order to be eligible,” explained El-Gamal.
Complementing the above two amendments, two laws regulating the performance of the lower and upper houses of parliament and privileges afforded their members will be also modified. This reflects the increased scrutiny of authority in the midst of revolution. “There should be a strict stipulation against MPs who exploit their membership to gain access to state-sponsored financial benefits and jobs,” said Zahran, emphasising that “the amendments should also require MPs to submit a detailed statement of their (financial and property) assets ahead of joining parliament. This will prevent MPs from accumulating vast fortunes during their five years in parliament and force them to devote all of their time to parliamentary work,” concluded Zahran.
El-Gamal indicated that the complete details of the above amendments will be announced when they are put forward for discussion in a national dialogue next week.