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Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections Law in the Works

In preparation for the parliamentary elections set to take place in the months after the presidential election, interim President Adly Mansour appointed an 8-person committee on April 14 to amend the 1956 Political Rights Law and the 1972 Law Regulating the Performance of the House of Representatives. This committee will set forth the date of the elections, the details of the electoral system that will be used, how many seats will be contested via the party list system, how many seats will be reserved for independent candidates, and the criterion for presidential appointments to the parliament. The country’s new Constitution has established a unicameral legislature, eliminating the upper house (the Shura Council) and renaming the People’s Assembly to the House of Representatives.

Per Article 102 of the Constitution, the number of elected members in Egypt’s House of Representatives must total at least 450; the president may appoint an additional number not exceeding five percent of the total number of elected members. Accordingly, the committee has decided that the House of Representatives will consist of 600 elected members and 30 presidentially-appointed members; the markedly higher membership numbers are meant to reflect the 54 million eligible voters expected to participate in the election. Per Article 106, the term of membership for each parliamentary candidate is five calendar years commencing from the date of the first parliamentary session.

Although specific proportions have not yet been laid out, the committee has affirmed that a mix of individual-candidacy and party-list seats will be present in the new parliament. During the Mubarak regime, voters chose two winners from each district through a mostly individual-candidacy process. After the January 25 Revolution, a system was set up in which one-third of seats were contested by individual candidates and two-thirds, by party lists; ultimately however, the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the new parliament, deeming its makeup unconstitutional. The proportions that are ultimately chosen will determine whether or not more organized parties and movements that choose to create broader coalitions will have significantly greater representation than individual candidates who refuse to align themselves with existing entities. Should the committee announce a seat ratio that strongly favors individual candidates, the formation of stronger, more effective political parties will be stymied, as personal connections and relationships built up over the years will have greater importance in determining who wins seats (and thus controls the parliamentary agenda).

At this point, it is unclear whether the party lists that are to be implemented in the electoral process will be ordered through an open- or closed-list voting procedure. The Constitution Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Free Egyptians Party have all advocated for open lists. In an open list, voters exercise some form of influence on the rank order in which a party’s candidates are elected; in a closed list, however, only party officials determine the order of candidates, giving the voter virtually no influence on candidates’ rankings. This decision will affect whether voters have the opportunity to favor particular candidates over others (or whether they will be forced to make broader decisions based on party line alone).

While previous parliaments incorporated specific quotas for workers, farmers, and women in an effort to empower marginalized voices, Articles 243 and 244 of the new Constitution only vaguely state that workers, farmers, youths, Christians, persons with disabilities, and expatriate Egyptians will receive “appropriate” representation in the first House of Representatives to be elected after the ratification of the Constitution. In addition, Article 11 commits the state to take necessary measures to ensure appropriate representation for women more broadly. Historically, the definitions of “worker” and “farmer” have both been contested; it remains to be seen how the committee will interpret and define these terms for the purposes of the impending legislation and whether it will choose to mandate specific percentages and rules regarding the incorporation of minority voices into party lists (or whether it will favor a less stringent approach to interpreting these articles).

Per the new Constitution, the currently existing Supreme Elections Commission will manage the first parliamentary elections, but it will eventually be dissolved. The National Elections Commission, which is expected to be created shortly thereafter, will ultimately govern all elections going forward.

With logistical preparations for the parliamentary elections expected to begin in the next few months, alliances among the country’s prominent political parties are beginning to form. The Coalition of Social Justice and Democracy has been founded and is expected to include Tamarod, the Popular Current, the Nasserist Party, the Dignity Party, and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party. The National Progressive Unionist Party, the Future Party, the Conference Party, the Republican People’s Party, and the Egyptian Patriotic Movement have come together to form the National Front Coalition, which is also rumored by some to include a number of Mubarak regime remnants. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party has itself aligned with the New Wafd Party. A number of other political parties continue to engage in coalition negotiations in an attempt to magnify their voices and to establish a broader voter base (which will certainly be key in securing parliamentary seats in an electoral scene as diverse as the one at hand).

Although formal government action has yet to be taken to implement the injunctions, the Alexandria Court for Urgent Matters and the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters have respectively banned members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party from contesting parliamentary elections. While the injunctions of these Courts are technically binding, it is unlikely that they will manifest in the elections procedure unless the committee appointed by Mansour or the Supreme Elections Commission decides to issue an implementing decree (and thus affirmatively incorporate these bans into candidate regulations).

When the committee completes initial drafts of the Political Rights and House of Representatives laws, it is expected to publish the draft texts and launch a website to accept feedback from political parties and individuals in reaction to the legislation, thus paving the way for the revision process. The final laws are expected to be issued no later than July 17.