Egypt Caretaker Government Passes Electoral Draft Law Amid Parties' Vehement Objections

by Jais Mehaji, Arab Spring Series // Published July 8, 2011
Egypt Egypts Supreme Council

After Egyptians successfully overthrew Hosni Mubarak back in February, the military government which took over in the interim has pursued a difficult transition to democratic rule, as discussed previously. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in September, and political parties and citizens alike have been very vocal about how they will be conducted -with one key conflict being the democratic opposition seeking a fully proportional representation voting system and the caretaker government wanting to keep half of seats elected by winner-take-all elections.

Here’s the background. Last month the Cabinet presented an elections draft law that was then vilified and rejected by the Democratic Alliance, an umbrella of 26 parties that have demanded a dialogue with officials and the army council instead. The proposed law stipulates a hybrid electoral system, which includes a mix of individual candidates system in winner-take-all districts (a relic of the Mubarak era), and a proportional representation party list system, which would be closed list.

Unlike mixed systems where party list seats are used to correct for unfair representation in the winner-take-all elections (“mixed member proportional”, as used in nations like Germany and New Zealand), the Egyptian proposal would keep the results separate – and thereby tilted toward the largest parties that already have a history of running and being organized in Egypt.

The Democratic Alliance includes parties from all political stripes, including Islamists and liberals: Wafd Party, Nasserist, Al-Ghad, and many others. This alliance has the aim of presenting a collective stance vis-à-vis the Supreme Allied Council’s decision, and includes a variety of youth parties. They believe the use of winner-take-all seats will undermine the democratic process and will encourage cronyism and patron-client networks, tribalism, and an open door for the remnants of the old regime to return to the political sphere – the very practices the revolution sought to eliminate.

Nonetheless, on July 6, Essam Sharaf, the Egyptian prime minister, amid objections from the alliance, approved the parliamentary draft law for parliamentary elections in September. What this means is that half of the seats will be elected through a closed list proportional party-list system while the other half will be determined through a winner-take-all plurality with individual candidacy. Political parties’ main dissatisfaction lies with the individual candidates system, which they see as an enduring legacy of the old regime.

These developments present problems for Egypt’s democratic transition. A lack of dialogue and consideration of the dissenting political parties’ legitimate grievances will only increase Egyptian cynicism towards the military and its caretaker government. Furthermore, if Egypt’s parliament does not mark a pronounced rupture with the institutional legacies of the past, such as the individual candidacy winner-take-all system, then the revolution will risk being derailed and this will be a step back for Egypt, but also for the broader Arab Spring movement.