What You Need to Know About Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections
By Basil El-Dabh and Bradley Youngblood
When are elections scheduled?
The next House of Representatives will have a total of 596 seats. Of those seats, 448 will be taken by independent candidates—permitted but not required to be affiliated with political parties—while 120 of the seats will be taken by party representatives through four closed-list constituencies. Two list constituencies will vote in the first phase; the others will vote in the second. President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi will appoint the remaining 28 members of parliament following the election.
The majority of political parties participating in these elections are neither overly religious nor opposed to the post-June 30 roadmap and Sisi’s policies. Many of these parties are relatively new, having emerged from the explosion of political involvement that followed the January 25 Revolution of 2011. The conservative Salafist Nour Party is virtually the only Islamist party participating in the poll. Unlike most Salafist and Islamist groups in Egypt, Nour has consistently supported Sisi’s rule, and Adly Mansour’s transitional government.
The parties and alliances contesting the four list constituencies are:
The For the Love of Egypt list, which is widely considered the largest and strongest. Members include the Future Nation Party, the Wafd Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Ghad Party, the Democratic Sadat Party, and many independent candidates. They will compete for all 120 seats available to parties.
The Nour list, which is considered to be the strongest competitor to the For the Love of Egypt list, though it is only running in two of the four list constituencies. It is comprised of the Nour Party alone. The conservative Islamist party will run for party seats available in the Cairo and West Delta constituencies.
The Egypt Calling (Nidaa Misr) list, which is relatively smaller than the previous two groups and consists of less publicized parties like the We Are the People Party. This list will compete in the Upper Egypt and the Cairo constituencies.
The United List, previously known as the Egypt list, is mainly comprised of experienced politicians with old regime ties and was only recently cleared to run in the race for Upper Egypt after being under review by the elections committee. It is comprised of the Independent Current and the parties of the Egyptian Front Coalition. The United List will contest the Cairo, West Delta, and Upper Egypt constituencies.
The Independent National Awakening Bloc and the Knights of Egypt are two smaller and lesser-known alliances that will also be contesting party list elections. They will compete in the Upper Egypt constituency.
A large number of parties are also running candidates for independent seats in diverse quantities, with some reaching as many as 300 individuals while others will only compete for 15 parliamentary positions. These parties include the Wafd Party, the Modern Egypt Party, the Future Nation Party, the Protectors of the Nation Party, the Nour Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Future Party, the Guardians of the Revolution Party, the Conservative Party, the Conference Party, the Karama Party, the Ghad Party, the Democratic Sadat Party, the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Egyptian Communist Party, the Tagammu Party, the Reform and Development Party, the We Are the People Party, the Independent Current, the Nasser Party, the Adl Party, the Egyptian National Movement Party, the Generation Party, and the Egypt My Country Party.
Who is boycotting?
Most of Egypt’s Islamist parties are boycotting this election. This is in keeping with their position since former President Muhammad Morsi’s ouster, which is that any polls called for by what they deem an “illegitimate” government lack legitimacy. These parties also boycotted and denounced the 2014 constitutional referendum and the following presidential elections. Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh’s Strong Egypt Party has also announced it will boycott parliamentary elections and will not run candidates.
Although dissolved and banned by court decision, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party have announced their boycott of the elections, as have the Strong Egypt Party, the Watan Party, the Wasat Party, the Constitution Party, the Popular Current, and the Egypt Awakening List.
Will elections be free and fair?
That depends. The electoral processes themselves appear like they will be relatively free and fair. One indication of this is that 717 international observers from 60 embassies, including Germany, Japan, Sweden, and several African nations will be present for the voting. Sisi has also personally invited a delegation from the U.S. Congress to observe, hinting that he has little fear of anything embarrassing being discovered by the international community.
However, the environment around the elections has been noticeably chaotic and biased. To say nothing of the longstanding issues in the Egyptian political arena—like the continued detention of political prisoners and the lack of popular political involvement among voters—reports are already circulating of candidates buying votes and parties paying candidates to switch party allegiances. Other rumors swirl about open state support of certain party lists, governmental pressure on candidates to ally with specific groups, and different party lists being bureaucratically sabotaged by the regime to strengthen rival lists. Thus, while there are no signs as of yet that anything untoward will happen on voting day, the most popular interpretation of the situation among regime critics is that this is because the undesirable parties and candidates will have been pushed out before that stage.
What will the powers of the next parliament be?
The 2014 Constitution dictates that members of the House of Representatives will be elected to five-year terms. Members of the body have the power to propose laws. Bills must be endorsed by one-tenth of the House before being referred to the relevant committee. If a bill is rejected it cannot be voted upon again in the same legislative term.
If a passed bill is vetoed by the president, the House can override the veto with a two-thirds majority.
The House of Representatives must also approve the budget presented by the government, and this is done on a section-by-section basis.
Parliament can summon the prime minister or any other minister, and it can withdraw confidence from the prime minister with a majority vote, after which the government must resign.
What are the first things this parliament will have to do once it convenes?
Article 117 of Egypt’s constitution stipulates that during its first regular session, the House of Representatives will need to elect a speaker and two deputies. These officials can be removed from their posts by a two-thirds vote. (The Egyptian government has already appointed a secretary-general for the parliament. Major General Khaled Abdel Sallam al-Sadr is the first military officer to fill the post and will be responsible for the House of Representatives’ day-to-day affairs and supervision of its committees.)
Article 156 of the constitution requires that, if the president has passed laws in the absence of a parliament, the next elected parliament needs to ratify all legislation passed during this time. So, in the first fifteen days of this new parliament, it will need to review hundreds of laws Sisi and interim President Adly Mansour have issued over the past two years. (For a catalog of the laws passed by Sisi since his accession to the presidency in June 2014, refer to TIMEP’s Legislation Tracker.) Any laws that are struck down by the parliament or are not reviewed by it are retroactively revoked.
Transitional provisions in the constitution include calling for the House of Representatives to pass a new law overseeing the construction of churches and another “organizing the rules for assigning judges and members of judicial bodies” during its first legislative term.
Does this parliament matter?
Critics anticipate this House of Representatives will be a rubber-stamp body due to its anticipated fragmentation. It is unlikely that this legislative body will challenge Sisi, especially as most participating parties openly support the president and are not running on any sort of oppositional platforms. Indications of a “political will” to reduce the constitutional powers of parliament in favor of an even stronger executive also fuel doubts as to the political clout of the incoming legislative body.
The election of the House of Representatives, however, will represent a “complete” government. Shortly before Morsi was elected in 2012, the People’s Assembly (the predecessor body to the current House of Representatives) was dissolved and the upper house, the Shura Council, took on legislative responsibilities until it was dissolved on July 3, 2013. Under Egypt’s new unicameral framework, the election of a House of Representatives would stand as the first time the executive and legislative branches are simultaneously and fully present—meaningful, even if only for appearances. It would also represent the official end of the roadmap that was put forth following Morsi’s ouster more than two years ago.
Could this House of Representatives be dissolved?
There are a number of ways in which the legislative body could be dissolved. If the president wants to dissolve the House of Representatives, he must issue a decision to suspend its sessions pending a referendum to occur within 20 days. If dissolution is approved, new elections must happen within 30 days.
In 2012, the People’s Assembly was dissolved due to a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court, and this could occur with this parliament if the court deems that the procedures by which it was elected (or any of the laws related to the electoral process) are unconstitutional.