Deja vu: Egypt’s electoral laws marred by controversy

Deja vu: Egypt’s electoral laws marred by controversy

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Thu, 28/02/2013 - 18:12
In November 2010, two months before the 25 January revolution, rigging marred the country’s parliamentary elections, with the then-ruling and now-defunct National Democratic Party seizing 95 percent of the vote, or 473 out of 508 seats.
 
Opposition powers back then, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Association for Change led by Mohamed ElBaradei, who is now the Dostour Party’s chief, boycotted the election.
 
Three years and a new government later, ElBaradei has called for a boycott of upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for 22 April, saying, “A total boycott of the [parliamentary] elections is the easiest way to expose a fake democracy and emphasize our legitimacy. I am reiterating what I had said in 2010 as though the regime has not collapsed.”
 
The parallels between the upcoming polls and those in 2010 are striking. They are indicative of a sentiment voiced by ElBaradei and protesters across Egypt: President Mohamed Morsy and the ruling Brotherhood have merely filled the corrupt, authoritarian shoes of Mubarak and the NDP.
 
These are the first elections Morsy has called for since his inauguration. The elections, which are due to take place amid ongoing and widespread unrest, will be held in accordance with the highly contentious Constitution that Morsy and the ruling Freedom and Justice Party pushed through in December, cold-shouldering nationwide opposition.
 
Like its 2012 predecessor, the election’s legitimacy may be subject to legal challenges, In June, the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the first post-Mubarak parliament, deeming the elections process for the lower house unconstitutional.
 
Amr Abdel Rahman, a political researcher at Essex University, says the upcoming election is quite similar to that of 2010, when the NDP made legal and procedural exceptions enabling it to obtain a majority — and eventually triggering the revolution.
 
“The people were fed up with the blatant rigging of the election, and today, the Freedom and Justice Party is making the same mistake by exploiting its majority and changing the rules of the game in its favor. This could result in an election that is illegitimate at both the legal and political level,” Abdel Rahman says.
 
In January, the Shura Council submitted draft elections law governing the new parliamentary polls to the SCC. (Article 177 of the new Constitution gives the court the right to legal review before the passage of laws organizing parliamentary, presidential and local council elections.)
 
This came despite the fact that the Constitution does not explicitly state that the SCC has the right to exercise legal review after an electoral law is passed. However, the ruling party is sticking to this strict interpretation.
 
Amr Zaky, former MP for the FJP, argues that “if the Constitution had stated that the law be returned once again to the SCC for review, then President Morsy would have done so. In the end, anyone who has objections can challenge the law before the judiciary.”
 
But the SCC did not give a final opinion on the law. It returned the law to the Shura Council last Tuesday after making 10 recommendations based on articles it found unconstitutional.
 
The Shura Council made the requested changes based on the SCC’s recommendations and submitted the law directly to the president for approval, but did not allow the SCC a final review.
 
Maher Samy, vice president of the SCC and its spokesperson, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that there could be major legal challenges to the elections if the Shura Council did not make the amendments. The law would then be subject to judicial review by the State Council.
 
“The failure to submit the law once again to the SCC is a major mistake,” he argues.
Mahmoud Kebeish, dean of the Cairo University Faculty of Law, says, “What guarantee is there that the Shura Council has implemented the SCC’s recommendations, except the SCC’s own approval, even if the Constitution does not state that a law must be sent twice to the SCC?”
 
One of the 10 recommendations that the SCC made applied to the mapping of electoral districts.
 
The opposition claims the Shura Council did not properly address the SCC’s remarks and instead gave the ruling party an electoral advantage in the coming election.
 
“They have only partially redrawn the constituencies. They should have redrawn all the electoral districts. However, they opted for the easier solution of increasing the number of seats in only some governorates,” says Waheed Abdel Maguid, a National Salvation Front leader.
 
Observers say the breakdown of electoral districts and, consequently, the allocation of seats is seriously flawed in Egypt. For instance, while Ismailia has nearly 1.08 million residents and Suez just 576,000, both governorates have six seats in parliament.
 
In its amendments, the Shura Council selectively reconfigured some constituencies in the governorates of Cairo, Giza, Qalyubiya, Alexandria, Sharqiya and Aswan, adding 38 new seats — eight new single-winner districts and one electoral-list district. Other constituencies, however, remain blatantly distorted.
 
The House of Representatives will now have 546 seats divided among 47 electoral-list system constituencies and 91 single-winner constituencies.
Mohamed Fouad, a former independent candidate in Giza, believes the minimal remapping of electoral districts was carried out in a haphazard manner.
 
He accuses the Brotherhood of gerrymandering and argues the new demarcation of boundaries addresses the Brotherhood’s weaknesses, while splintering the power of its contenders.
 
For instance, in Cairo, the Shura Council redrew the downtown constituency to encompass Shubra, even though the neighborhood, home to a large Coptic bloc, lies eastward.
 
The downtown Cairo constituency encompasses Qasr al-Nil, Abdeen, Garden City and Zamalek, whose upper-class residents typically do not vote for the Brotherhood.
In the last election, the FJP’s candidate downtown lost to a candidate from the liberal Free Egyptians Party. Shubra’s strong anti-Brotherhood base has now effectively been muted.
 
Fouad adds that the council did not redraw constituencies in Upper Egyptian governorates, even though observers have called for reducing the number of seats in parliament allocated to that region. For instance, Sohag has 30 seats — a number disproportionate to its 4.2 million citizens.
 
“Sohag is an important electoral bloc for the Brotherhood. Seventy-eight percent of its voters voted in favor of the Constitution, which was prepared by the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly. In addition, in the presidential runoff, it was one of the governorates that tipped the balance in favor of Morsy,” Fouad says.
 
Zaky rejects all the opposition’s views on the legitimacy of the parliamentary elections law.
 
“We admit that the division of constituencies is not good, but Egypt has 84 million citizens, and if the opinion of each of them was solicited, they would not agree,” the former FJP MP said, adding that candidates who can reach out to their constituents should not have a problem with the remapped districts, in a reference to Shubra’s relocation. “The arguments put forward by the opposition show that they want to hamper the election, because it seems they aren’t ready.”
 
However, according to opposition member Ahmed al-Hawwary, a Dostour Party leader, it is the new Brotherhood regime and its corruption that has pushed the opposition to boycott the election, echoing fellow party leader ElBaradei.
 
“We will not take part in an electoral process whose security and political integrity is not ensured,” Hawwary says. “What guarantees are there that there will be full judicial supervision and that logistical demands will be met? If we do participate, we will ourselves address attempts at rigging by our competitors.”
 
He says the regime is messing with the election’s political legitimacy. “I expect Morsy to make some concessions, such as reshuffling the Cabinet or allowing full international supervision of the election to persuade the opposition to participate,” says Hawwary. “But he will only do that a few weeks ahead of the vote, after he and his party have gotten their house in perfect order.”
 
Morsy has thus far ignored several of the opposition’s demands to present guarantees for a fair election, including the appointment of a new, impartial cabinet, after 
Prime Minister Hesham Qandil’s Cabinet was criticized for its weak performance and alleged submission to the Brotherhood’s wishes. The opposition has also voiced concerns regarding the ambiguity surrounding international supervision of the elections.
 
These grievances have triggered several political powers, including the Dostour Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance and the leftist Tagammu party to announce a boycott of the elections.
 
The opposition’s decision not to participate in the election threatens the political legitimacy of the coming parliament, whose majority will form the new Cabinet. The new House of Representatives is also expected to issue fresh legislation concerning the restructuring of some state institutions.
 
With so many boycotters, the coming parliament may well be dominated by Islamists, particularly since the Nour Party, which grabbed the second highest tally of seats in the previous election, is also taking part in the polls.
 
This article was translated by Dina Zafer.
 
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.