Presidential powers questioned in elections appeal

A judicial body on Wednesday appealed the Cairo Administrative Court's recent decision to suspend upcoming parliamentary elections, raising questions over the future of the contentious elections and the exercise of presidential powers.

The State Lawsuit Authority lodged its appeal before the Supreme Administrative Court on behalf of the president’s office, Shura Council and justice minister a week after a presidential spokesperson said leaders respected the original ruling.

The court suspended House of Representative polls shortly after President Mohamed Morsy officially scheduled the elections to start in April, saying the Supreme Constitutional Court must review elections law amendments made by the Shura Council.

The SCC had requested the amendments after finding five articles in the draft legislation unconstitutional.

The decision to bypass a final approval by the SCC had drawn heated criticism from many worried the new parliamentary polls would be subject to legal challenges should the Shura Council’s amendments fail to rectify the unconstitutional articles.

Now the government is arguing that scheduling elections falls under the auspices of the president’s office and, as such, cannot be subject to judicial suspension or appeal.

Raafat Fouda, a professor of constitutional law at Cairo University, tells Egypt Independent that Morsy’s claim does not have solid legal foundations.

“Sovereign decisions are issued by the executive authority in its capacity as a ruling power. Usually, this entails scheduling elections, decisions related to defense, national security and the state’s foreign policy,” Fouda explains.

But that was before the new Constitution was ratified in December. Now the president can only go unchallenged over decisions related to defense, national security and the state’s foreign policy, contends Fouda.

“It was the will of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated constitutional experts to remove scheduling elections from the president’s [executive powers]. Now they want to make it a sovereign decision. This is problematic since they cannot adhere to the Constitution they wrote themselves,” he says.

Article 141 of the Constitution stipulates that the president exercises powers through the prime minister, deputies and ministers, except in issues relating to defense, national security and foreign policy.

But Shura Council member and former member of the constituent assembly Ramadan Bateikh tells Egypt Independent that elections scheduling are outside the jurisdiction of the Cairo Administrative Court.

“The Constitution has nothing to do with the definition of sovereign decisions. The term by itself is a theory developed inside judicial circles,” Bateikh explains.

The leader of Wasat Party said the Supreme Administrative Court is still free to decide whether this issue falls under the president’s purview and can be contested.

“Yet, if this happened, one may question why the Supreme Administrative Court would go against such a well-established tradition,” he adds.

The president’s office said in a statement Wednesday that it respects the rule of law and the decision of the Cairo Administrative Court, describing the appeal as an attempt to clarify constitutional and legal loopholes.

“[The president’s office wants] an explanation of article 141 of the Constitution, as the Cairo Administrative Court ruled that the elections law should be signed by the Cabinet before it is approved by the president,” the statement said.

The statement added that the president’s office needs a legal explanation on whether president has exclusive powers to elections in the future that cannot be challenged.

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