Questions of parliamentary leadership, decision-making

While the country is poised to embark on its final phase of parliamentary elections, questions remain as to how the “post-revolutionary” parliament will function and how it will differ from Mubarak-era parliaments.

For one, no one knows who will be nominated to the post of parliament speaker, who is to be chosen by a majority vote in parliament. The question has become more urgent in the wake of demands that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces hand over power to the head of parliament once elections are completed in January.

Former Vice President of the Cassation Court Mahmoud al-Khodeiry was recently proposed for this position. He won his parliamentary seat in Alexandria, and has the support of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

Mohamed Shehata, the head of his campaign, said that Khodeiry “considers it an honor for any Egyptian to be head of the assembly but for him it is not yet an option until the final makeup of the assembly becomes clear with the end of the elections.”

For some, the decision will have to involve the party with the majority of seats. So far, the FJP has won more seats than any other party.

The Wafd Party’s Essam Shiha says: “It’s a bit too soon to speculate on who it can be. There are still many other candidates yet to come through, and many deals will be made between factions within the assembly over many roles, not just the speaker but also the main committees. The majority party will put forward names and others will also propose names.”

Shiha expects much wrangling over the posts, and if the speaker comes from the FJP, his two deputies would come from other parties. Also, he foresees negotiations over who will sit on the main committees, such as the financial and security committees.

Another issue that remains in dispute is how the parliament will make decisions.

According to 1972’s parliamentary Law 38 along with its later amendments, “destiny” laws — such as those pertaining to the constitution, for example — are passed with a two-thirds majority in parliament. Regular laws, such as those concerning international treaties, budget policies and changes to state policies, only require the approval of a majority in attendance.

In the past, the ruling National Democratic Party controlled two-thirds of parliament, which allowed it to pass whatever it wanted. This year, while the FJP is expected to win a majority, it will not have two-thirds of parliament under its control. While alongside the Salafi Nour Party, a two-thirds majority can be established by an Islamist bloc, it has yet to be seen whether the FJP would choose to ally itself with Nour in parliament.

Parliament is mandated with forming a constituent assembly to write Egypt’s new constitution, and it is in that arena that differences will emerge, according to Shiha.

“The laws will remain the same, and I think there will be majority and there will be an opposition, and I think the opposition will be very powerful, because it is an ideological opposition more than a political one,” he says.

He expects “a big war over the civil nature of the state.”

There is a recent proposal that for “destiny” laws to pass in parliament, a “super majority” of 75-90 percent would be required, in order to better reflect the pluralism of the upcoming parliament. However, Shiha dismisses this notion, saying that two-thirds is the maximum that would be needed to pass a destiny law.

"The super majority could be implemented later,” he says, “but can only be proposed after the constituent assembly that will draft the constitution is chosen."

"There is a desire for this super majority law due to the Islamic majority in parliament that might be opposed to the basic tenets of the older Egyptian constitutions," Shiha said, "but in the end any constitution must be ratified through a popular referendum, so… the people who have the final say."

As it stands, the statutes governing parliament remain as unchanged, and they probably will not change unless doing so would “help improve how the parliament works,” Shehata said. The statutes could only be changed if there was consensus among parliament members, he said.

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