Why are Egyptian parliamentary elections postponed?
The presidency’s statement stressed its full respect for court rulings and promised quick action.
Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the first since the ouster of President Mohammad Mursi, have been suspended until further notice. The Supreme Constitutional Court ruling was based on the unconstitutionality of the Electoral Districts Law that divides the country into constituencies.
While the office of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the law will be modified as soon as possible, it is still unclear if this is the only obstacle, and if the verdict can be overturned with the drafting of a new law. It is also unclear when the elections, originally due to start on March 21, can be held.
According to official statements, the law will be modified as soon as the reasons for judging it unconstitutional are clear. “We are waiting for the report of the Supreme Constitutional Court to know what exactly was wrong with the law and whether we need to add or remove seats,” said General Refaat Qomsan, the prime minister’s advisor for electoral affairs.
The presidency’s statement stressed its full respect for court rulings and promised quick action. “Being keen on ensuring the legitimacy of all state institutions, the president ordered the drafting of a new law in not more than a month,” said the statement.
“It is very important for the president to carry out the third phase of the road map agreed on by all Egyptians,” the statement added, referring to the political agenda that followed Mursi’s ouster, which consisted of three stages: the constitution, the president and parliament.
Zaid Ali, senior advisor on constitution-building for International IDEA, said issuing a new law is expected to take much more time than estimated by the presidency, especially as there is no guarantee that the constitutionality of the new law will not be contested.
“The law’s drafters will now have to go back and redraft the law on the basis of the decision, which will take a while, and then the new versions of the law will also be subject to appeal,” he said, adding that the elections have practically been postponed indefinitely.
Saber Ammar, constitutional expert and member of the Supreme Committee for Legislative Reform, agreed: “The verdict of the Supreme Constitutional Court means that constituencies for individual candidates have to be divided from the beginning, which will take long, especially that this time those who draft the law need to be very meticulous so that no other appeals are filed.”
The process is not just about the law, he added. “All the procedures will be repeated from the beginning, including the applications and selection of candidates.”
Mohamed Abul Ghar, activist and chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, criticized the state for drafting laws before verifying their constitutionality. “The president does not want a parliament now,” he said. “That is why the call for holding the elections was delayed, and why the state keeps issuing laws that violate the constitution.”
Abul Ghar added that if the elections are eventually held, the resulting parliament will likely be very fragile and unable to make decisions. “This is exactly what the state wants: a parliament that does not act as a watchdog.”
He criticized the alleged interference of security apparatuses in the electoral process. “The National Security Bureau met with several wanna-be candidates, and asked some of them to run and others not to run,” he said, adding that the entire mechanism of parliamentary elections needs to be changed. “Otherwise, it will be just a postponement of another failing round of elections.”
Wahid Abdel Meguid, professor of political science and deputy chairman of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, blames the committee that drafted the law. “While drafting the law, the committee should have sent a memorandum to the Supreme Constitutional Court requesting clarification on articles of the constitution that concern parliamentary elections,” he wrote.
Abdel Meguid said terms such as “fair representation” are very broad, and it is unclear how they can be applied to the division of constituencies. “The calculation the committee did to determine the average number of citizens the MP represents was quite faulty, and led to a huge difference in the weight of each vote from one constituency to another,” he said.
Abdel Meguid blamed the state for not consulting experts and political parties before issuing the law. “The law should have... been brought forth for a communal discussion in order to have its defects underlined and redressed.”
Professor of constitutional law Dawoud al-Baz said while the division of constituencies is not usually mentioned in constitutions, and while there is no precedent for a fixed regulation for such a matter, there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration while drafting that law.
“The drafters of the law have to be very accurate in dividing constituencies in a way that makes sure there is no remarkable discrepancy in the number of voters in each constituency, and the imbalance that characterized the disputed law was bound to render the parliament itself illegitimate if the elections were held,” he said. “It is also important to consult politicians and statisticians while dividing constituencies.”
Baz added that it is necessary to abide by the main principles of the constitution while working on the law, in reference to the articles of the constitution (4,9, 53, 87 and 102) that the law violates by not treating citizens and voters equally.
“The division of constituencies for individual candidates shows that the drafters of the law did not observe the rules of fair representation for voters and citizens,” said the verdict. “The law discriminates between voters without any logical basis.”