Elections of Egyptian House of Representatives: Preparations and Expectations

Amr Hashem Rabea | 06 Oct 2020

Nearly a week before the official announcement by the National Elections Authority (NEA) in Egypt of the results of the Senate elections on 16 September 2020, the NEA called on the electors to cast their votes in the elections for membership of the Egyptian House of Representatives (EHR), which has broad legislative and oversight powers and is the representative of the legislative authority in the country. One day after the results of the Senate elections were announced, that is, on 17 September 2020, the NEA announced the start of accepting candidacy applications for membership of the EHR.

This paper discusses the ongoing preparations for holding those elections whose schedule was announced on 10 September 2020. It deals with the most prominent powers of the EHR, its electoral system, the general features of the electoral campaigns, chiefly what happened in the nomination process for the EHR seats, and the implications of the nominations for party life in Egypt. The last part of the paper is devoted to discussing the most prominent expectations concerning the work of the next EHR and the agendas it would undertake to achieve in its next legislative term.

The status and powers of the EHR

The EHR is the sole representative of the legislative authority in Egypt. It undertakes both the legislative and oversight tasks. However, that mission varied from time to time; it thrived during the monarchy era, and was characterised by the domination of a single or dominant party afterwards. Its abeyance was sometimes short and often long, especially in light of the state of imbalance between the powers against the legislative authority, as was the case in the 1971 Constitution. That is a situation to which Members of Parliament (MPs) were accustomed, even after the constitutional amendments that granted Parliament great powers, as is the case presently.

The current Constitution stipulates that the general budget and its final account shall be approved by Parliament. The latter is responsible for amending the Constitution, and has an active role in choosing the President of the Republic. It approves the laws submitted by the government and proposes laws. The emergency law does not apply, war cannot be declared, and Egyptian forces cannot be deployed abroad except with the EHR approval. The EHR approves government formation and reshuffles, and ministers are accountable to it. It is empowered to hold the government accountable and withdraw confidence from it according to many mechanisms and means. All of these powers are presently the prerogatives of the EHR, even if doe not actually use some of them.

The EHR electoral system

The current EHR was elected in accordance with a decree law by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in the absence of Parliament after the events of 30 June 2013, which was called Decree Law No. 92 of 2015 regarding the EHR. It constituted a slight amendment to Decree Law No. 46 of 2014 that was issued by the then Interim President Adly Mansour. The decree organises the system for electing the EHR, based on the majority system of half plus one (50 percent + 1) of the votes of the electorate, leading to the election of an EHR consisting of 596 members, of whom 448 are elected via the individual candidacy system and 120 members, i.e. 21.12 percent of the MPs, through the absolute (closed) list system. A conditional presidential appointment of 5 percent is added, which is equivalent to 28 MPs.

On that day, the legislator commented on the absolute list system, which is adopted by only four countries around the world due to its disadvantages, that the Constitution approved six quotas for social groups, namely women, youth, Christians, workers and farmers, people of determination (people with disabilities), and Egyptian expats. Thus, it became extremely difficult to overcome those quotas without the absolute list. The absolute list system is technically known as the party bloc, whereby each party or political trend participating in the elections puts forward a list, just like other competing political parties and trends. The list that gets 50 percent + 1 wins 100 percent of the seats, that is all the seats, without the rest of the lists getting any share or percentage of the votes they got translated into seats, a system known as proportional lists.

In today's elections, the EHR modified the electoral system, maintaining the majority system with both its individual candidacy and absolute-list systems. It also maintained the number of parliamentary seats unchanged. However, it changed the proportionality between the individual candidacy system and the absolute-list system, whereby membership would be divided between them in two equal halves, so that 284 MPs would be elected via the individual candidacy system, and the other half via the absolute list system. Thus, the share of those elected via the absolute list system was raised to 50 percent of the EHR seats.

All this was linked to two things: first, ignoring the proposals made by the civilian powers to adopt the proportional list system in the presence of quotas. Those quotas were the justification used by supporters of the absolute list to maintain that list. Advocates of those powers had demanded that non-parliamentarians choose a new electoral system, preferably the proportional list, their argument being: how can a parliament that was elected by the absolute list system, albeit with a small percentage, legislate another electoral system?

Second, transforming the quota system in the Constitution from a transitional system into a permanent one. The constitutional amendment of 2019 had approved, inter alia, that women have 25 percent of the total seats instead of the previous system, namely to be "adequately represented", and that the rest of the aforementioned five quotas be "adequately represented" in every parliament, rather than confining that representation, under the same above description, to the elected Parliament (2015-2020) alone.

Concerning the electoral districts (constituencies), the number of individual candidacy constituencies was reduced from 205 to 143, some of them electing one MP, some two, some three, and some four. In other words, the size of the districts compared to the 2015 elections was expanded by nearly a third, posing a degree of hardship for the individual candidacy system candidates, especially those who do not have a strong party backing.

As for the absolute list system, the legislator, which is the current EHR, has maintained the existing division that was approved by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi by Decree Law No. 202 of 2014, creating four major electoral sectors/constituencies, namely the Cairo and Central and Southern Delta Sector District, in which the voter chooses a previously prepared list that includes mandatorily and only 100 names, including 9 Christians, 6 workers and farmers, 6 young people, 3 people of determination (people with disabilities), and 3 expats; the Northern, Central and Southern Upper Egypt District, in which the voter chooses a list that is exactly similar to the previous one and also previously prepared in terms of numbers; the Eastern Delta District, in which the voter chooses a list of candidates of only 42 names, including 3 Christians, 2 workers and farmers, 2 young people, one from people of determination (people with disabilities), and one expat; and, finally, the Western Delta District, which includes the same numbers mentioned in the Eastern Delta list.

Accordingly, the elected Parliament would include at least 142 elected women, 24 Christians, 18 workers and farmers, 18 young people, 8 people of determination (people with disabilities), and 8 Egyptian expats. In other words, it would include at least 38.4 percent of the quota members of the total number of elected MPs. Upon the addition of 7 women appointed by law among the appointed 28, the number of women becomes 149, and the total quota in the EHR would be at least 37.8 percent of the total seats in the EHR.

Thus, it appears that Parliament and the electoral legislation have paid more attention to the social groups through the electoral quotas than to the political entities represented by the political parties and powers, which are supposed to play the pivotal role of representing the different social groups of Egyptians. This interest has reflected the failure of the political parties in the Egyptian street since the inception of the third multiparty system on 11 November 1976 to play a fundamental role in this regard. While this failure is true to a large extent, it was important to seek to gradually activate the role of the parties in the electoral process.

The electoral campaign

As is well known, the electoral campaign is linked to the existence of an administration of the electoral process, an electorate, and candidates.

1. The electoral administration: according to the Constitution, the elections are run by the NEA, which is the body that oversees all the electoral processes (parliamentary/presidential/municipal) and referendums in Egypt, and is made up of judges. During the current elections, the NEA took numerous organizational decisions for the conduct of the elections, including calling voters to vote, opening the door for candidacy applications and supervising them, managing electoral propaganda, monitoring the electoral process, supervising voting days at home and abroad, counting the votes, and announcing the results. The NEA is assisted by many institutions and ministries such as financial oversight agencies, the Central Bank, and the Ministries of Justice, Defence, and the Interior, etc.

2. The electorate is based in this election on the voter database, i.e. what is called the national number data, comprising nearly 63 million people. The database has conditions set forth in Law No. 45 of 2014 to regulate the exercise of political rights. The excluded categories include the exempt (such as members of the army and police) and those who are prohibited from exercising political rights, such as those convicted of crimes against honour and felonies based on definitive and final rulings.

3. The candidates: as was mentioned above when defining the form of the electoral system, these are divided into the absolute list system candidates and the individual candidacy system candidates. The door to candidacy in the elections was closed on 26 September 2020. Accordingly, 4,006 candidates were announced based on the individual candidacy system, and 568 candidates based on the absolute list system. While the NEA decided on some of the appeals, some of its decisions in this regard were appealed before the Court of Administrative Justice, some of whose decisions, in turn, were subsequently appealed before the Supreme Administrative Court.

As for the absolute list system, the NEA accepted 4 political powers that formed absolute lists. It did not accept the lists prepared by the National Alliance powers led by the former Head of the National Media Council (NMC), former Governor of Alexandria and member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) during the January 2011 events Major General Tarek Mahdi in all four sectors, namely Northern, Central and Southern Upper Egypt, the Cairo and Central and Southern Delta Sector, and the Eastern Delta Sector. The NEA also rejected the "selection" list which was submitted only in the Western Delta Sector, is led by the Conservative Party headed by Akmal Qortam, and includes 3 parties. The NEA’s justification for rejecting those lists was their violation of the conditions for nominating their candidates, such as the military service requirement, the nationality requirement, or the lack of the aforementioned social quota numbers, etc.

As for the accepted lists, they are the National List for Egypt, comprising 12 parties in addition to the Political Parties Youth Coordination Committee, mainly Mostaqbal Watan (Future of the Homeland) that is closer to the state, followed by the Wafd (Delegation), the Tagammu (Gathering), the Egyptian Social Democratic, the Homat al-Watan (Guards of the Homeland), and the People’s Republican parties, all being in the four sectors across the Republic. The second accepted list comprises six obscure parties, namely the Abna’ Misr (Sons of Egypt) list, which is found in two sectors, namely the Eastern Delta Sector, and the Cairo and Central and Southern Delta Sector. The third accepted list is the Nedaa Masr (Call of Egypt) list, and is present in two sectors, namely the Northern, Central and Southern Upper Egypt Sector, and the Western Delta sector.

Overall, the majority of the parties that joined the approved or rejected lists were obscure, and all of them did not and would not put forward an electoral programme.

As for the individual candidacy system, the Mostaqbal Watan Party topped the list of candidates through this system. It even simulated in its tactics the former ruling National Democratic Party, nominating more than the required number of its members in the same district, in a number of constituencies, which heralds a competition among its members in the elections. In the National List as well, similar to the Senate elections, the Mostaqbal Watan led the negotiations to establish the National List for Egypt. With the full support of the state, 12 parties, in addition to the so-called Political Parties Youth Coordination Committee, participated in this list. It is worth noting that Mostaqbal Watan is a new party that emerged after the events of 30 June 2013, and has led the partisan electoral process in 2020, thereby defeating old parties that it was able to coordinate with in preparing the National List, mainly the Wafd Party and the leftist Tagammu Party.

The long-history Wafd suffered a major setback during the preparations for those elections. Its heavy defeat in the Senate elections, from which it came out empty-handed in the individual candidacy section, led to a kind of split in its ranks, so much so that the NEA refused the participation of the party’s leader Bahaa Abu Shoka in the party’s negotiations to participate in the National List for Egypt. However, the Wafd leader insisted on participation, thus violating the NEA decision. This heralds the eruption of a crisis within the crisis-fraught party since the death of its founder Fouad Pasha Serageldin in 2000.

Thirty-eight political parties competed for the individual seats, most of which were in Cairo Governorate, with 24 parties, followed by Alexandria, Giza, Sohag, Aswan, Beheira and Qena with 17, 16, 14, 13, 12 and 9 parties, respectively. Despite the different situation in the governorates and districts, the percentage of competition was one seat for every 14 candidates, which heralds a fierce electoral battle, as opposed to the absolute lists section where only 568 candidates compete for 284 seats.

As for the electoral campaigns, they began for candidates, and it was decided that those campaigns would have specific financial ceilings that would be monitored by the NEA. Those ceilings are usually frequently violated by the candidates. Candidates via lists that include 100 candidates (i.e. the Upper Egypt Sector list and the Central Delta Sector list), have a financial ceiling of 16.6 million pounds (approximately 1 million dollars) in the first round and 6.6 million pounds in the run-off. The lists that include 42 candidates (i.e., the Eastern Delta Sector list, and the Western Delta Sector list) have a ceiling of 7 million pounds in the first round and 2.8 million pounds in the run-off. In the election according to the individual candidacy system, the candidate has a financial ceiling of 500 thousand pounds in the first round and 200 thousand pounds in the run-off. In addition, there are other propaganda controls regarding candidate behaviour, such as respecting the private life of others, refraining from propaganda within state institutions, refraining from polluting walls, refraining from exploiting religious institutions in propaganda, etc. Those controls are also sometimes violated by the candidates.

Expectations regarding the work of the next NEA

The first session of the elected EHR is scheduled to be held in January 2021. That EHR would probably not be different from the current EHR in terms of its relationship with the executive authority. While it would be characterised by cooperation between the two authorities, it would apparently be different from the previous EHR in terms of the details and topics of that cooperation. To start with, the majority in this EHR would belong to Mostaqbal Watan, which would not differ much from the majority holder in the previous EHR, namely the Daam Masr (Support Egypt) Coalition, especially that the latter's re-elected MPs would likely rush to join the Mostaqbal Watan or cooperate with it. The task of advocates of the electoral coalition in the "National List for Egypt" would end at the end of the elections, after which each side would return to its partisan camp. In other words, the list was no more than a mechanism for cooperation in the electoral battle.

In the details of the expected party scene, there would likely be minor opposition powers, some of which are not annoying, represented by the Salafist Nour (Light) Party, a few of whose candidates would likely win in its traditional strongholds in the northern and western Delta. However, the disturbing trend would continue to be the other powers belonging to the civil movement called the 25-30 Alliance, that is those who believe in the movements of both 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013. Those powers would struggle in the field of curbing the acceleration towards ending the involvement of the state and its social obligations towards the ordinary citizen.

On the other hand, there would be a group of parties that are not at all disturbing to the government, such as the Wafd, the People’s Republican, and the Homat al-Watan. Once they take their share in the chairmanship of the EHR committees, those powers would completely settle down.

As for the independents, who are likely to constitute a significant proportion of MPs, they would be dispersed and would not unite under any current. However, their minds would mainly be oriented towards their constituencies. In other words, their parliamentary work would focus on providing direct services to the constituents, especially in the absence of the local popular councils, i.e. the municipal councils, which were dissolved by a judicial ruling in 2011.

In terms of performance, the EHR would take care of resolving the outstanding issues that were not closed or decided by the previous EHR. It would also take care of completing the legislative structure affirmed by the 2012 Constitution, where so far half of nearly 100 laws provided for by the Constitution have been enacted, including the law prohibiting the assignment of judges to work in non-judicial bodies, and the law establishing a commission to prevent discrimination. Priority would also be given to the Clinical Trials Law which was returned by the Head of State to Parliament due to technical aspects that he requested to be reviewed.

The Personal Status Law would also be the subject of great interest and controversy, especially with respect to the issue of child custody and seeing children after divorce. The National Council for Women (NCW) and the Al-Azhar establishment would certainly have a weighty say in the upcoming debate about this legislation. The long-awaited old rental law would likely be discussed during that session to settle the indefinite lease contracts that have been inherited since the 1960s between landlords and tenants, bringing clear injustice to landlords. In addition, the Anti-Discrimination Commission law would be considered to support equality between citizens. Last but not least, the EHR would consider the Local Administration Law, according to which the elections of local administrations would be held after having been cancelled for several years.

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