Contradicting Statements Fuel Speculation Over Egypt’s Parliamentary Polls

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Efforts aimed at holding Egypt’s parliamentary elections later this year have gained momentum in recent days.

In a meeting held on 9 October, following the end of the Muslim Eid Al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice), Egypt’s president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi urged a legislative reform committee to finalise the revision of a number of political laws. At the top of the list is a law that aims to redraw Egypt’s electoral districts to comply with the requirements of a new constitution.

A senior member of the committee, formed last June after El-Sisi was elected president of Egypt, told parliamentary correspondents on Saturday that the committee is taking major steps to finalise the electoral districts law so that parliamentary polls can be held later this year.

“We know that the committee took so much time in revising the electoral districts law but this is necessary to ensure that it complies with the new constitution,” said the source, stressing that “article 102 of the new constitution, passed last January in a public referendum, stipulates that in revising the law, legislators must ensure that electoral districts be redrawn to balance both the area and population of constituencies.”

To achieve the above objective, the source explained that the committee has been in close contact with ministries including the interior, administrative development, planning and housing because they are the ones that have detailed data about population density and the boundaries of each district across Egypt.

“In reviewing these details, we found a lot of imbalances,” explained the committee member, adding that “for instance, a district with a 20,000 registered voters is represented by one seat while another one with more than 250,000 voters is also represented by one seat,” the member added.

The source explained that the distribution of districts must also ensure that candidates will not be forced to cover a big area in terms of campaigning and that they have an easy access to voters.

The senior committee member also indicated that the cabinet’s decision last August to increase the total number of Egypt’s governorates from 27 to 30 has put a new burden on the committee. “We had to take the new increase into account and this required additional time and effort,” said the source.

The new three governorates added are Al-Alamein, Al-Wahat and middle Sinai.

The source said regardless of any burdens, “we hope that the law will be finalised as soon as possible so that it will be endorsed by the cabinet in a plenary meeting and ratified by president El-Sisi, thus eliminating the last obstacle before parliamentary polls can be held.”

In contradiction with the above source, however, justice minister Mahfouz Saber, who is also a member of the legislative reform committee, said in a public statement after the meeting with El-Sisi on 9 October that the electoral districts cannot be finalised soon “because the drawing of the new boundaries of constituencies cannot be completed without taking the addition of three new governorates into account.”

According to presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef, El-Sisi’s meeting with the committee on 9 October focused on reviewing all laws that must be amended to go in line with the new constitution. “The president was informed that the committee has finalised a new legislative agenda that must be a source of national dialogue before they are finally ratified,” said Youssef.

Youssef’s statement means that the new laws will be referred to intensive public discussion before they are finally passed.

In general, preparations paving the way to parliamentary polls include finalising the boundaries of constituencies, selecting judges to supervise the vote, and assessing security conditions in all electoral districts.

Parliamentary polls are the third – and final – part of a political roadmap adopted after massive protests led to the removal of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office in July, 2013. They also come after the passing of a new constitution in January and the election of a new president in May.

El-Sisi and senior government officials, including Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, have recently vowed that parliamentary polls will be held later this year and that they will not be postponed to the end of 2015.

Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development party and nephew of late president Anwar El-Sadat, told Ahram Online that he agrees that contradicting statements about parliamentary polls reflect a kind of division and ambivalence. Sadat, however, believes that two issues are pushing El-Sisi to show greater keenness for holding polls this year.

“I think El-Sisi wants to send a message that while he is mainly interested in improving economic conditions, he also wants to make sure that he is not autocratic and for this reason the democratic process must move forward,” said El-Sadat.

He also noted pressure from the US, stating that the Americans have been exerting pressure and stipulating that they cannot resume military assistance unless Egypt takes more democratic steps. Sadat added that El-Sisi’s insistence that polls will be held this year came after his meeting with US President Barack Obama on 25 September.

“American pressure or not, I think El-Sisi has reached a decision that it is high time for parliamentary polls to be held and the sooner the better,” said Sadat.

The House of Representatives law specifies that 75 percent of seats (420) be reserved for independents, with just around 20 percent (120) allocated to those standing on party lists. The remaining five per cent (27) deputies will be appointed by the president.

Concerning the 120 party-list seats, the law stipulates that two districts must be created to produce 90 deputies, with 45 for each. Besides, the law states that two other districts be designed to produce 30 deputies, with 15 for each.

Sources said a number ranging from 260 to 268 districts will be created to produce the elected 540 deputies. Out of these, four will be allocated to produce the 120 party-list seats, while the remainder will be devoted to electing the 420 individual seats.

Source : Ahram online