By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: Laws limiting campaigning to three weeks prior to the presidential election are proving hard to follow as candidates work on collecting the required 30,000 endorsements and, in the meantime, are making no secret of violating the campaign silence rule.
“Candidates affiliated with parties can submit their nomination papers with the consent of their party, but [getting] 30,000 endorsement signatures from the public is impossible … without proper electoral publicity,” the campaign of the youngest presidential hopeful Khaled Aly said in a statement.
Presidential hopefuls, who are not members of established parties with parliament representation, must collect the signatures of 30 parliamentarians or 30,000 eligible voters from at least 15 governorates in order to be qualified as candidates.
Aly’s campaign said the Presidential Election Committee (PEC) doesn’t give candidates equal opportunities.
MP Moustafa Bakry submitted a draft law to the People’s Assembly to amend Article 20 of Law 174 of 2005, as amended by legislative decree number 12 of 2012, which prohibits campaigning by presidential candidates until three weeks before election day.
Egypt’s first presidential election since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster is slated for May 23-24.
The decree states that campaigning must stop from March 10, when registration for candidacy began, until April 30, when the list of accepted candidates will be announced.
Bakry suggested in his draft law that campaigning be allowed on the day registration starts until two days before the date fixed for the poll. Campaigning for run-offs, the bill added, is to begin on the day following the announcement of the results of the first round until a day before the re-election.
“The PEC’s decision to prohibit electoral campaigning until April 30 was shocking and confusing to all presidential candidates,” Bakry said in the bill, as cited by the official Middle East News Agency (MENA).
Hoda Abdel Baset, of Hamdeen Sabahy’s campaign, said the committee’s decision is unfair and should be annulled.
“Campaigning for PA elections lasted more than three weeks,” she said. “There should be enough time for proper campaigning for the first real presidential election in Egypt.”
The PEC, Aly’s campaign said, should set fair and objective rules if it expects them to be obeyed, instead of forcing candidates to violate its rules.
Councilor Hatem Begato, member of the PEC, agreed that the law is irrational and urged the PA to pass Bakry’s bill.
“We don’t pass laws, we are only concerned with their implementation,” Begato said Sunday in a phone-in with Al-Nahar TV.
Adel Wasily from Aly’s campaign said PEC members should have been more vocal about their objection to the law. They should have threatened not to accept the membership if it was not amended, he added.
The PEC said Monday it received the first complaint regarding campaign silence violations.
“Dr. Fouad Moussa filed a complaint against a number of candidates for having violated the prohibition of campaigning, and he specified the media that violated the ban and the dates of the violations. He also mentioned in his complaint that the campaigns of a number of candidates offered money to citizens to secure their support, specifying the names, dates and the notary offices where the endorsement signatures were ratified,” the Committee said in a statement.
The statement did not specify the names of the candidates or the media accused of committing these violations.
Members of the campaign for Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak, said it is committed to the campaign silence rules and refused to comment, saying they do not give press statements as part of their adherence to the rule.
Other candidates said they are not committed to the PEC decision, while others have continued on with their campaigning, some of which started early in 2011.
“Many presidential hopefuls started campaigning months ago, so it’s reasonable that they officially start campaigning now alongside registration,” Mazen Hassan, professor of electoral systems at Cairo University told DNE.
While recent weeks have seen a surge in the number of presidential hopefuls, some candidates made their intentions clear a year ago. Though not yet officially registered, these presidential hopefuls have for months highlighted the main points of their electoral programs in numerous media appearances, conferences and rallies.
“We are using this time to move among people across the country to explain Aly’s electoral program by holding conferences and rallies because we rely on getting the 30,000 endorsements,” Wasily said.
Abdel Baset said that Sabahy’s campaign is not committed to the decision because he still had not officially registered his candidacy.
“The law is talking about official candidates who applied for nomination. Sabahy is still a potential candidate. But, even after we submit our papers to the committee, we would seek to amend this decision because it is unjust,” she said.
According to the PEC, since the facts mentioned in the complaint may constitute electoral crimes, the committee will refer the complaint to Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud.
The penalty may reach up to a one-year prison sentence and/or a LE 10,000-100,000 fine.
Bakry said his proposal would not subject candidate who already violated the law to such penalties.
“There’s a lot of doubt that the PEC will hold those who violated the campaigning laws accountable, so it makes more sense to accommodate their needs,” Hassan said.
More amendments coming
On Monday, Parliament Speaker Saad El-Katatny referred another draft to amend the presidential election law proposed by one of the MPs to parliament’s proposals and complaints committee.
The amendments will allow presidential candidates to file appeals against the results announced by the electoral general committees within three days of its announcement. The Administrative Court must issue a verdict within three days from receiving the appeal.
“This is a positive step that undermines the full authority and immunity given to the Presidential Election Committee in Article 28 of the constitutional decree,” political analyst Hassan Nafae said.
However, Ali said this amendment is not enough; adding that Article 28 of the constitutional decree had to be annulled altogether. The article gives legal immunity to PEC’s decisions against appeal.
Last month, the PA approved amendments on Articles 30 and 38 of the presidential election law to guarantee the integrity and transparency of the elections. The Supreme Constitutional Court later approved the amendments, deeming them it in line with the constitutional decree issued last year.
Amendments on Article 38 stipulated that electoral general committees will be responsible for counting the total number of valid votes received by each candidate in the subcommittees.
The general committees will then announce the results in the presence of candidates’ representatives, civil society organizations monitoring the elections and media and then deliver them to PEC.
Nafae said that all procedures related to the electoral process, not just the results, should be open to appeals to guarantee the integrity of the process.
“However, after the final results of the presidential election are announced by the PEC, no appeals should be allowed to guarantee the stability of the new elected president in his post,” he added. –Additional reporting by Heba Fahmy.