The elected Egyptian Parliament held its first session on 12 January 2021, after several weeks were spent in selecting the Members of Parliament (MPs), which culminated in the appointment by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of 5 percent of the MPs.
This paper sheds light on the extent of integrity of the Egyptian parliamentary elections, the significance of the results obtained by the political parties and trends, the new phenomena in those elections, and the impact of all this on the nature of Parliament’s relationship with the government in the future.
The integrity of the elections
Election integrity is linked to multiple matters related to material or moral intervention, or both, by the parties to the electoral process to influence the overall process. It can be said initially that the previous methods by which the will of the voters used to be falsified, such as manipulating the division of districts, voter registers, polling and counting proceedings, etc., during previous eras, no longer exist in Egypt today, which is a matter to the credit of the State and the body in charge of managing the elections. The process of dividing districts in the 2020 elections, despite its great difficulty in Egypt due to the inconsistency of the demographic distribution with the geographical area, resulted in a more elegant, fair and impartial division, which is certainly to the credit of the government and the legislation that it submitted to Parliament for enactment in this regard.
On the other hand, monitoring the integrity of the electoral process by Egyptian and international civil society institutions had an important impact on following up the event and the extent of its integrity before, during and after the voting process, all of which, despite their numerous remarks, did not question the general integrity of the electoral process. However, the matter only seemed to be worrying due to the many and prohibitive procedures and requirements by the National Elections Authority (NEA) for many institutions that wanted to follow up the event.
On the other hand, some setbacks appeared, which were considered by some as undermining the integrity, given that methods were used that seemed legitimate only in terms of form, through mechanisms to control the shape and size of membership in the Egyptian House of Representatives (EHR), through legislation that allows an electoral system that is the majority system through the absolute list and individual candidacy, based on 50 percent each. The absolute list system, which exists in only four political systems around the world, allows adding the votes obtained by the list/lists that received 49 percent to the list that received 51 percent or more, which is considered by many to be a matter that prevents the opposition from representation.
In addition to the legislation, intervention in the process of running for candidacy appeared to be an important matter in those elections because the order of candidacy determines the priority of appearance of the candidate names on the ballot paper. Some observers of the electoral process noticed an intervention to highlight the candidates of Mostaqbal Watan (Future of the Homeland, Nation’s Future) in the priority of nomination, and therefore in the ballot paper. Those observers say that among the 284 seats to be elected by individual candidacy, name priority given to those affiliated with the Mostaqbal Watan Party was 227 times, followed by 34 times for the Republican People’s Party (El-Shaab el-Gomhouri).
Moreover, some candidates sought to manipulate the will of the voters by exploiting their socio-economic impoverishment, by paying large sums of money to voters in front of the electoral committees, something that the NEA was unable to stop.
Significance of participating in the polls
Participation in voting in the elections is one of the most important indicators of their legitimacy, that is, the voters’ acceptance thereof and their satisfaction therewith. Participation in voting inevitably requires numerous statistics on the number of eligible voters, actual voters, and valid and invalid votes at the level of individual candidacy districts and at the level of each of the four sectors of the list system, as well as at the level of the different governorates. However, this data was not announced by the NEA, as used to be done by the Supreme Elections Committee (SEC) in the past, which makes the analysis of participation somewhat incomplete.
However, according to the available information and data announced by the NEA, the rate of participation in the polls in those elections was limited. This percentage was close to that of the 2015 elections. The rate of participation in the polls in the governorates of Egypt, in which the voting was divided into two stages, each with a first round and a run-off round, ranged between 22 and 29 percent according to the data announced by the NEA in both elections. This indicates that the general mood towards the polling process converged both times. This mood differs from that which prevailed in the polls that took place in the parliamentary elections in 2012, which was in the EHR (the People’s Assembly at that time) nearly 60 percent, and in the Senate elections (the Shura (Consultative) Council at that time) 12.5 percent. In general, the variation in percentages is usually related to the degree of citizens' expectations from Parliament, and also to the powers of the elected entity, which can be discerned in the difference between the People's Assembly elections and the Shura Council elections.
In addition to participation, the elections were also characterised by lack of interest in the elections as well as participation while nullifying the vote. There are many explanations of all this, given that the economic and social problems apparently have a large share in justifying the issue of lack of interest by the voters in participation in the vote. In other words, matters such as high unemployment rates, high prices of goods and services, the need for more earned income, high poverty rates, and the continued illiteracy of a proportion of the society appear to be reasons for the reluctance to participate. With the addition of the important new development that emerged in 2020, namely Covid-19, to the above, the picture would be complete about the reasons for the reluctance. As for the vote invalidation, which reached nearly 25 percent, especially in the list election system, it is attributable to the people's rejection of this type of election, that is, the one based on the absolute list system.
As for participation in Parliament, which depends on the results of the polls, it is noted that out of 36 parties (out of nearly 104 parties), in addition to the independents who participated in running in the elections, only 12 parties won in addition to independents. This means that while Parliament may be characterised by diversity in terms of form, in terms of content, that participation is defective, which will be explained later in the paper.
Outcomes and significance for the political parties and trends
After the election results were announced a few days ago, it became clear that many things could be inferred from those results, the most important of which are the following:
1. 12.5 percent of the political parties in the Egyptian arena were represented in Parliament. This constitutes a low representation, and can be explained by what is always referred to by all those in charge, official and non-official alike, namely “the weakness of the party system in Egypt”. Despite the existence of 104 parties, Egypt does not have too many disputed issues, given that only four ideological and political currents are known in practice, namely the liberal, the leftist, the Islamic, and the centre. In any case, this number of represented parties (by election) in the 2020 Parliament remains less than the one that existed in the 2015 Parliament, given that 19 political parties were represented in that Parliament in addition to the independents.
2. In the outgoing Parliament, in which the percentage of individuals to the absolute list was 21 percent to 79 percent, there was one political party, namely the Free Egyptians Party, whose representation was equivalent to that of seven parties represented in the same Parliament. On the other hand, in the 2020 Parliament, which is characterised by equivalence between the individual candidacy and the list system, and in confirmation of the fragility of the party structure in Egypt, the representation of one party, namely the Mostaqbal Watan, was twice that of the other 12 political parties in the elected Parliament, given that the number of their MPs is 156, whereas the number of the Mostakbal Watan MPs alone is 315. Today, the Free Egyptians Party has suffered a major split that has affected its existence. Based on Table 1, it is also noticed that there are parties that participated in the Parliament of 2015 and came out empty-handed today, and other parties that participated in the current Parliament and were not present in the Parliament of 2015. This is due to the fact that they joined the absolute list called The National List for Egypt, whose compiler brought those parties together. It is noteworthy that the joining parties included the Reform and Development Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and the Justice Party. These were among the most vocal opponents of the absolute list system, but they joined it as a result of their great doubt about their victory by participating through the individual candidacy. It was known during the elections that whoever joins the National List would inevitably win because of the List's closeness to the State and given its great publicity during the election campaign.
3. The increase in the representation of political parties in the 2020 Parliament to 476 seats (after adding 2 party appointees) after it was 243 seats in the 2015 Parliament, meaning that its percentage increased from 42.78 percent to 80 percent. This rise was assumed to be reason for talk about a real political development, had it not been, in fact, a formal development, not only because of the domination of one party over parliamentary action, but because, which is more important and influential, it is a development that is not paralleled by a similar development of the party system in Egypt through the existence of coherent party structures with an impact on the street, solid membership, headquarters, information course, well-established decision-making systems, transfer of power within parties, ideologies, programmes, regulations, and governance frameworks.
4. Independents, who accounted for 119 seats (after adding 26 appointed independents), were the most prominent victims of representation in the 2020 Parliament. Initially, their share according to the election law decreased from 79 percent of the number of those mandatorily elected to 50 percent. Secondly, their presence in the absolute list that won the elections (the National List for Egypt) decreased from 74 candidates during the 2015 elections to only 22 candidates in 2020. Third, the party candidates contested with the independents for the seats designated for the individual candidacy. All of the above are important factors that have limited the representation of independents in the Parliament of 2020. All this happened despite the awareness by all the political actors and all public and civil society institutions in Egypt that the number of independents is equivalent to more than 95 percent of the total number of Egyptians.
5. In terms of gender, parliament membership was won by 162 women, out of the total number of 595 seats today (one seat remains unelected), with a rate of 27.2 percent. Of these, 142 women belonged to the lists category by default, 6 belonged to the individual category, and 14 were appointed. Thus, this number is the largest in the history of the Egyptian parliament since the entry of women into parliament in 1956. Among the Christians, there were 33 MPs, of whom 24 belonged to the list category by default, 3 were elected through individual candidacy, and 6 were appointed. It should be noted that the two categories of women and Christians are always the lowest electoral groups in the Egyptian Parliament, considering that there is no quota to represent them, which is evident from the number elected from among them in the individual category, which does not include any electoral quota for them, unlike the lists for which the law has allocated a minimum threshold for the two categories, which is the same number mentioned above.
New phenomena in the recent parliamentary elections
The first new phenomenon in the elections was the conduct of the vote for this large number of eligible voters in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic crisis, which led, among other things, to the abstention of many people from voting.
The second phenomenon was the increase in the number of MPs elected for the second time who ran under both the individual candidacy and list systems. Of the 596 MPs in the 2015 Parliament, 368 MPs ran for the new Parliament, which is considered a very large number. While a large number of old MPs who ran under the individual candidacy were unlucky, the list MPs, 44 in number, all of whom ran under the National List for Egypt, won the elections through the List’s victory.
The third phenomenon was the emergence of a very large number of candidates who are relatives of old MPs, relatives of candidates in the same Parliament, or relatives of members of the Senate that was elected two months ago. This phenomenon predicts a shift from the succession of jobs in Egypt to the succession of political offices and positions.
The fourth phenomenon was the massive number of invalid votes during the polls, which ranged in the two stages of the election under both individual candidacy and list systems between 6 percent and 24 percent, which are large percentages indicating dissatisfaction with the candidates or the electoral system.
The fifth phenomenon was the emergence of new parties such as Mostaqbal Watan and the Republican People’s Party, as pioneers of the Egyptian political scene, especially in terms of the number of seats they obtained, as opposed to the fall of the old parties, mainly the Wafd and the Tagammu. It could be stated that had it not been for the lists in which those two parties were represented, their presence would have been extremely weak.
The sixth phenomenon was the frequent use of electoral money in the elections, not only during the polls by the candidates for the voters, but more importantly by the candidates for the parties that put them on their lists during the candidacy stage.
Prospects for Parliament's performance and its political and legislative role in Egypt
First: in the preliminary aspects and roles
1. The formation of the EHR’s 25 committees: a large majority of the offices of those committees (the chairman, the two deputies, and the secretary of the committee) is expected to be from the Mostaqbal Watan Party, while a few of them would be from the other parties loyal to Mostaqbal Watan, which would facilitate the conduct of many procedures within the committees throughout the work of Parliament.
2. Parliament and the formation of the new government: the formation of a new government in Egypt is a normal event that takes place after the first sessions of the new Parliament. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is likely to act pursuant to the Constitution and assign someone to form the government, who is more likely to be a technocrat. Indeed, most government ministers are also likely to be technocrats. In other words, the President is unlikely to act according to the second constitutional option by assigning a leader of the majority party in Parliament to form that government. Despite the majority it obtained, Mostaqbal Watan remains a fledgling party that lacks the cadres and experts capable of forming a government. Besides, it only won the parliamentary majority with the great help of many from outside it.
Second: in the legislative and oversight roles
Legislatively, as a result of the presence of MPs more than 50 percent of whom are from one party, namely the Mostaqbal Watan, this matter will definitely facilitate the government’s accomplishment of many tasks without being disturbed. Considering that some of the bills to be enacted in the period ahead are complementary to the Constitution whose enactment requires a two-thirds majority, this matter also apparently would not bother it because of the expected alliance between Mostaqbal Watan (317 seats after adding those appointed), Republican People’s Party (50 seats ), and Modern Egypt (13 seats).
In addition, the government will raise many hot and thorny issues in order to have them approved through the enactment of many laws referred to by the current Constitution that were not regulated by new laws, mainly the controversial law on the liberalisation of old housing rents and the Local Administration Law.
In terms of oversight, MPs are not expected to raise annoying oversight requests for the government due to the limited opposition and the nature of the electoral system that brought in MPs who represent the local constituencies more than they represent the Egyptian nation. Hence, oversight is expected to be limited to questions and requests of information directed at the people of the narrow electoral districts, especially in the absence of the local councils that have been tasked with this role since over a decade.
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