More on Egypt's Electoral Law

by Jais Mehaji, Arab Spring Series // Published July 18, 2011
EgyptJuly 18

Progress toward democracy is looking all the more complicated in Egypt, as questions about the parliamentary elections’ rules remain unanswered and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) electoral measures are replete with ambiguity.

Here’s the backdrop on Egypt. The electoral commission has decided to set up elections for parliament based what political scientists term a “parallel system” – where half of the parliament will be elected through a party list proportional representation system, while the other half will be decided through the old system of district-level, individual candidacy contests – a hybrid system such as that used in nations like Russia or Japan. The “winner-take-all”, individual candidacy component has been heavily criticized, as I have written more about in my latest post.

As the parliamentary vote initially scheduled for September has been delayed to October or November, the SCAF has not been clear about the exact rules of the new electoral system, while some are seriously dubious. For example, the draft electoral law passed earlier sets the threshold for a party to be represented in parliament at a historic low of 2 percent (as in Israel, although still far higher than the 0.25% threshold in South Africa). This means more small parties will likely be represented- increasing representatives, but creating the potential of what political scientist David Faris recently called a “fractionalized parliament.”

Whether or not there will be dual candidacies is also kept in the dark. The SCAF has not announced if it will allow candidates to run in the party list system and in the individual districts, which has created an atmosphere of obscurity. There are pro’s and con’s to both approaches – being able to run for both encourages party leaders to contest district seats, but it also means a candidate can lose in the district seat, but still win a seat in parliament.

Further, how the Egyptian redistricting process will be done also lacks clarity, considering Mubarak’s history of gerrymandering by underrepresenting rural areas and overrepresenting urban areas where the ruling party had an advantage, as it has been done in Jordan. Who will conduct the process and how will the districts be drawn?

Finally, what will be the status of women and the Coptic minority under the new electoral law? Contrary to Tunisia, Egypt’s caretaker government has not done enough to assuage the concerns of women and Christians with regards to how they will be represented.

Beyond the uncertainties surrounding the electoral law, some are also criticizing the military’s recent moves to protect its power and even expand it, under a “declaration of basic principles.” By preserving its role before the writing of a new constitution, and shielding it from the parliamentary and budgetary scrutiny of a new civilian government, the Egyptian military seems to be replicating the Turkish military’s maneuvers after the 1980 coup, whose legacy is still felt today.

Despite these ambiguous and potentially problematic measures, the resolve of the protesters in Tahrir Square seems to be unabated, and their determination not to have the democratic process hijacked more heightened than ever.