Constituent Assembly votes on controversial new constitution

Constituent Assembly votes on controversial new constitution

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Thu, 29/11/2012 - 11:39

The Constituent Assembly is expected to vote on the final draft of the new constitution Thursday, before submitting a copy to President Mohamed Morsy Saturday. However, the current draft preserves controversial clauses that were not agreed upon by different political forces.

The effort to speed up the process has been criticized amid ongoing unrest over the president's recent declaration extending his powers and protecting the Islamist-dominated assembly from dissolution.

Voting on the final draft was scheduled to begin at 10 am Thursday, but as of noon had not yet started. Assembly spokesperson Mohamed al-Sawy told Al-Masry Al-Youm Wednesday that the final draft constitution would be ready by Friday at the latest. He said a copy would then be submitted to Morsy, who will announce the date of a public referendum on the document.

Assembly members rushed to approve Wednesday a number of controversial articles. Some analysts described the current draft as an attempt to neutralize the positons of the military and other Islamist forces in the current polarization following Morsy's declaration. 

According to state-run Al-Ahram newspaper, the assembly approved an article allowing civilians to be tried by the Military Prosecution for crimes that "harm the Armed Forces." The current draft also establishes a National Defense Council that doesn't include parliamentarians aside from the speakers of both chambers of Parliament and in which the military budget shall be discussed in secrecy. 

The interests of Salafi members of the assembly and the parties they represent are preserved through an article stating that "the principles of Islamic Sharia shall include full evidence, orthodox and jurisprudent rules, and sources approved by schools of the Sunnis and the community." This articulation follows a long controversy over the nature of inclusion of Sharia as the legislation reference in the constitutional draft. 

The assembly has also decided to push through two articles regarding parliamentary elections and stripping former officials of their political rights similar in content to decisions the Supreme Constitutional Court has already annulled this year.

The state news agency reported that the members of the Constituent Assembly agreed Wednesday on an electoral system in which one-third of Parliament is elected by single-winner voting and the rest through party lists. The article, according to MENA, allows individual partisan and independent candidates to run in either system.

The Supreme Constitutional Court ruled regulations governing a similar system unconstitutional earlier this year, prompting the dissolution of the People's Assembly. The court decided on 14 June it was unconstitutional for political parties to field candidates for seats that were supposed to be reserved for independents.

The Constituent Assembly has also reportedly agreed to incorporate a transitional constitutional article that will prevent Mubarak-era officials from running in elections. The agency did not specify how long the period of political isolation will be, but private daily Al-Shorouk reported that former regime figures will be barred from engaging in political life for 10 years.

A version of this law was passed by the now-dissolved People's Assembly, however, on 14 July the SCC ruled the law unconstitutional.

The Constituent Assembly is also planning to increase the number of SCC judges from 11 to 18. Gadallah voiced his opposition to the incorporation of that article, saying most countries' constitutions do not specify the number of members in constitutional courts.

Perhaps hoping to head off controversy over Morsy's recent power play, the assembly is also expected to approve the transfer of legislative powers to the Shura Council following the issuing of the constitution. The upper house of Parliament, which typically does not issue legislation, would have legislative powers until a new People's Assembly is elected.

Members of the Constituent Assembly rejected allowing the president to keep legislative powers after the constitution is issued, as well as another proposal that would give those powers to the assembly itself. Farid Ismail, a member of the assembly, said he approves the Shura Council plan and believes the transition would last between two and three months.

Meanwhile, assembly member and Morsy's legal adviser Judge Mohamed Fouad Gadallah withdrew from the Wednesday evening assembly session in protest against the constitution being "tailored" to serve certain interests, state-run MENA reported.