CAIRO: With the elections race nearing its end, political parties and experts rejected statements by Islamists calling for a parliamentary political system, insisting that a semi-presidential system would best serve Egypt during its transition to democracy.
Raafat Fouda, constitutional law professor at Cairo University, said Egypt must follow a semi-presidential system, countering statements made by Deputy Head of the Freedom and Justice Party Essam El-Erian, who said that the parliament will have the same power as the elected president.
The FJP swept 41 percent of parliamentary seats so far coming in first place followed by the Salafi Al-Nour Party which snatched over 20 percent of the seats. El-Erian’s statement came just before the end of the staggered People’s Assembly elections. Run-offs of the third and final phase will start Tuesday, with only a handful of constituencies expecting a repeat.
The extension of the transition period beyond the initially designated six months had led activists to suggest handing over power to parliament and or holding presidential elections sooner than planned. The suggestions revived debates and concerns about restructuring Egypt’s political system.
In an interview on Al Jazeera Mubasher Sunday, El-Erian said that the “new president must know that the parliament will have the same power as the elected president."
However, Fouda dismissed the idea of equal powers between the president and the parliament.
"In the mixed system (semi-presidential system), either the president has more authorities than the parliament or vice versa, but neither can have absolute authority or power," Fouda told Daily News Egypt.
He explained that Egypt’s previous constitutions all stipulated a semi-presidential system. However, this system wasn’t implemented during the 30-year autocratic rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie echoed Fouda’s opinion, adding that the FJP is obliged to follow a semi-presidential system.
“Egypt never knew a system other than the semi-presidential one,” Rabie told DNE.
A parliamentary system
While most parties supported the idea of a semi-presidential system, Al-Nour Party called for a parliamentary system, where the parliament’s majority elects the government and the president’s position becomes honorary.
"We believe the parliamentary system will best serve Egypt at the moment," said Yousry Hammad, spokesman of Al-Nour Party.
Others disagreed, saying that save for the Islamists, the rest of the parties were still weak and are not able to create a strong parliamentary system.
"These parliamentary elections represented this transitional period where the strongest and the most organized won at the expense of other parties which still need to develop," said Karima El-Hifnawy, secretary general of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and leading member of the Kefaya opposition movement.
Hany Sarey El-Din, member of the Free Egyptians Party’s political bureau, echoed El-Hifnawy’s opinion saying that a parliamentary system would only serve the Islamists who won the majority of the seats, while sidelining the rest of the parties.
Sarey El-Din, whose party withdrew from the upcoming elections for the upper house of parliament citing violations in the PA elections, believes that a semi-presidential system where the parliament monitors the government and holds it accountable would be a balanced system.
But Hammad said that only parties that couldn’t secure a reasonable number of seats in parliament so far are making this argument.
On her part, Margaret Azer, member of Al-Wafd’s higher committee, said that the Egyptian people couldn’t jump from a 30-year autocratic rule to a parliamentary system.
"A semi-presidential system is more reasonable and acceptable during this transitional period," she said.
El-Erian also addressed controversial issues related to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), saying that there was no "safe exit" out of power for SCAF.
"Whoever made a mistake must be held accountable if there is evidence against him, but amnesty can only be granted by the people," he said.
These statements contradict previous statements made by the Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Mahmoud Ghazlan last week, who said that the group didn’t mind allowing SCAF indemnity from any legal or criminal accusations, in exchange for a smooth transfer of power to a civilian rule.
"We keep hearing contradictory statements from the Brotherhood everyday, we want actions not words," El-Hifnawy said.
Azer believed that the change in the Brotherhood’s tone was to rebuff claims that SCAF had brokered a secret agreement with the Brotherhood to guarantee its support.
On his part, Sarey El-Din said that the Brotherhood was attempting to catch up with the rest of the political powers who have long stressed that SCAF isn’t above the law.
SCAF has been under fire since it assumed power on Feb.11 for committing gross human rights violations during clashes with protesters, which left over 100 dead and thousands injured thus far.
El-Erian also stressed that the military forces would be monitored by the parliament without being given any special treatment, to avoid creating "a state within a state."
On Nov. 18, thousands protested in Tahrir Square against a document of constitutional principles regulating the selection of the constituent assembly and guaranteeing the secrecy of the military budget.
Political powers agreed that the military’s budget should be discussed by a sub-committee affiliated with the People’s Assembly titled "the national security committee" in closed meetings, without announcing its findings to the public.
Last month, SCAF General Mokhtar Al-Molla told foreign press that the idea of scrutinizing the military’s budget was “ridiculous,” saying he knew of no military whose budget was public, according to The New York Times. His statements, which followed the Islamists’ sweeping victory in the first phase of PA elections, indicated the military would have a role in writing the constitution on the pretext that the parliament wasn’t representative of all sectors of society.
Rabie said that it was evident that SCAF wanted to shield itself against any legal action and guarantee the independence of its budget and its council before leaving power.
"But I don’t think they’ll hold on to power too long," said Rabie. "They will eventually fold in the face of pressure by the people and political powers.”
The FJP raked 35.2 percent of the party lists’ votes in round three of the elections, followed by Al-Nour with 27.5 percent, Al-Wafd with 9.8 percent and the liberal Egyptian Bloc at 5.6 percent. The Revolution Continues, which comprises youth activists, won only 2 percent of the seats.
The run-offs are expected to start on Tuesday with 46 seats up for grabs. Four single winner seats were snatched by the FJP in the first stage.
The FJP have 30 candidates competing in the run-offs. A few constituencies including Shoubra, Sahel and Aswan will repeat the elections on Tuesday and Wednesday. Other constituencies are repeating elections on their individual candidates seats, including the second and third constituencies in Assiut, the second and fifth constituencies in Sharqiya and the third constituency of Moharram Bik in Alexandria, due to violations that occurred in the first and second rounds in these areas.
In Daqahleya province, Mubarak loyalist and former judge and lawyer Mortada Mansour is expected to compete in the run-offs against FJP professionals candidate Khaled El-Dib in the fifth constituency of Mit Ghamr and Aga. El-Dib was ahead of Mansour by 40,000 votes in the first phase, according to FJP spokesman in Daqahleya, Mohamed Yousef.
Preacher Ali Qatamesh of Al-Nour Party is also expected to face-off with FJP candidate Hassan Gomaa in the second constituency in Daqahleya.
On Monday, the administrative court annulled the elections in three constituencies: South Sinai and the first constituency in Daqahlia, ordering both to repeat elections for the individual and closed party systems. The court also ordered the repeat of the elections in the third constituency in Qena for the single winner seats.