Senate to help improve quality of Egyptian legislation: Political Pundit

Sarah El-Sheikh
13 Min Read

Political parties started their preparations last week for the upcoming Senate elections which are due to take place early in August. The Senate, which constitutes the second chamber of parliament, is due to be formed in accordance with the recent constitutional amendments of 2019.

On Friday, Chairperson of the National Elections Authority (NEA) Lasheen Ibrahim said the committees monitoring the progress of the electoral process had received documents from 52 candidates on the seventh day of opening the door for Senate candidates. This brings the total number of candidates looking to take part in the elections to 734.

Ibrahim also explained that this number includes the candidates for both the individual and the list systems. Candidates were invited to submit the necessary documents to take part in the elections last week, with the process set to close on Saturday, with the announcement of the final candidates list to be made on Sunday.

So far there are will be two lists running for the elections, one of which is led by the Mostaqbal Watan (Future of the Nation) Party, which is set to field candidates for all of the 100 seats reserved for independents. A total of 11 parties will take part under this list, under the slogan “For the Sake of Egypt.”

Mostaqbal Watan, which also leads the Egypt’s Support coalition, holds the largest party representation in the parliament, and is a big supporter of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

The second list, which covers opposition parties, is led by the Conservative Party and includes the Reform and Development Party, the Dignity Party, the Arab Nasserite Party, and the Constitution Party. This list is similar to the opposition coalition, called “25/30”, in the current parliament.

On 15 July, 11 parties held a closed meeting at Mostaqbal Watan headquarters to agree on the final form of a unified list to run in the Senate elections. This will take place under the slogan “For the Sake of Egypt”, with 100 seats divided among the parties that make up the list.

During the meeting, a dialogue was conducted on the need to agree on the names of the list’s candidates, as many of the list’s participating parties were unsatisfied with the number of seats allocated to each party. Also, during the meeting, political parties presented a list of primary members to run for the seats of the elections. Prominent TV presenter Youssef El-Hosseiny, was declared the official spokesperson for the list during the meeting.

The list permanently includes: the Mostaqbal Watan Party, the Republican People’s Party, the Wafd Party, Modern Egypt Party, the Homeland Defenders Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Egyptian National Movement Party, the Reform and Development Party, the Freedom Party, and the National Progressive Unionist Party.

Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek, head of Mostaqbal Watan Party, said after the meeting that the alliance’s Senate election list had been finalised, taking into consideration the interests of all parties.

Moussa Moustafa Moussa, head of Al-Ghad Party, told local media outlets that his party submitted the papers of seven candidates for individual seats, and had previously submitted the names of its candidates to the list led by the Mostaqbal Watan.

He stressed that the current conditions of his party are not commensurate with the elections for the Senate, where his focus is the House of Representatives.

About 63 million Egyptians will be eligible to vote in the Senate elections next month. The polls will be supervised by 20,500 judges, and 163 media organisations, alongside 13 foreign and Egyptian civil society organisations monitoring the vote. The Senate elections are scheduled to take place in Egypt on 11 and 12 August, with Egyptian expatriates able to cast their ballots on 9 and 10 August.

The Official Gazette published Decision No 42 of 2020 of the NEA regarding electoral campaign controls, financing, and spending on advertising for the Senate elections.

Article 1 of the Decision includes regulations on 11 items in elections which are: electoral campaign controls; the duration of election campaigning; and the maximum spending; the limit on donations received; monitoring of advertising funds; use of media; advertising prohibitions; and prohibitions on the use of public office powers.

The Senate elections are Egypt’s first for a second chamber since the Shura Council was dissolved in 2013, and it will currently follow the parliament. The Senate’s return comes following amendments to the Constitution in 2019.

Legislation regulating the Senate was approved by parliament on 17 June and ratified by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on 2 July. The presidential ratification of the laws governing legislative elections, also includes a law on the Senate’s formation and other laws relating to the exercise of political rights.

The law states that the Senate will include 300 seats, a third of which will be elected via the individual candidacy system, a third by closed party lists and a third to be named by the president. The law stipulates that 10%, or 30 seats of the Senate, be allocated for female candidates.

Under the law, 100 independents will be elected in 27 constituencies, with the number of senators for constituency depends on its size and population. The most densely populated constituencies, such as Cairo, will elect 10 independent members.

There will be four party-list constituencies, two of which will elect 15 representatives each, with the remaining two electing 35 each. Under the closed party list system adopted, a single party or coalition of parties that gains 51% of the votes in a certain constituency will take all the seats.

Roles of the Senate

Article 8 of the Senate Law defines the functions of the Senate and the tasks assigned to it in five main points as the second legislative chamber. The terms of reference include taking an opinion in a group of matters.

The Senate’s functions, as defined by the law, include: providing proposals for amending one or more articles of the Constitution; drafting general plan for social and economic development; discussing peace treaties; alliances; and all treaties relating to sovereign rights, drafting laws that complement the constitution referred to it by the President or the House of Representatives.

Additionally, the Senate can discuss issues related to the general policy of the state or its policy in Arab or foreign affairs sent by the President. The Senate shall inform the President of the Republic and the House of Representatives of the opinion on these matters as regulated by its internal regulations.

Year full of elections in Egypt

In a media statement, Hanan Abu Saken, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National Center for Criminal and Social Research, said that the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that the parliamentary term is only five years. This entails that elections must be held 60 days before the end of the current parliament’s term ending in January 2021, making 2020 as the election year in Egypt.

She added that all elections that have taken place between the 25 January Revolution and now have had a high turnout. The exception to this was the Shura Council election during the Muslim Brotherhood rule, which had the lowest participation rate of 12%.

Abu Saken said that, throughout its history, the second chamber of Parliament did not have a high participation rate. This was due to the citizenry’s participation in elections for the House of Representatives.

She emphasised the importance of focusing on the Senate’s powers to encourage voters to participate, adding that the elections will be fair and under full electoral supervision. Abu Saken also said that the voter’s choice contributes to the arrival of the most appropriate and most worthy of what is reflected in the drafting of laws.

She pointed out that the civil service law, for example, has raised a great controversy.

“If we had a council of elders, it would not have caused all the controversy it did,” Abu Saken said, “We would have avoided its negative aspects, as well as the old rent law and the law regarding terrorist entities.”

Why we need the Senate?

Speaking on the Senate, Abu Saken explained that there are some political systems that take the two-chamber system, namely the Lower House and the Upper House. The Lower House is the House of Representatives and represents the people, whilst the Upper House is the Senate and it comes with appointment, election, or merging between the two rooms.

She also explained the main philosophy behind the second chamber’s formation. The elections for the House of Representatives do not always ensure vastly experienced members with legislative vision in the political and social dimensions are voted in. Abu Saken added that members may be voted in based on “services” provided, or partisan interests and bargains.

Elections do not always, also, bring the most efficient people. The state needs those with specialisation and experience to prevail over the interests of the country based on narrow party interests, the expert said.

She continued, “Hence this explains the importance of the second chamber to look at legislation, to scrutinise and examine it to come out with legislative quality.”

Abu Saken also said that the Senate is a council of wise men filled with experience that does not consider narrow partisan interests. The Senate has importance as it may arbitrate should a dispute between the government and the House of Representatives (the lower chamber) arise.

She explained that if we did not see the great importance of the Shura Council in some periods, this means a mistake in implementation was present. Now, voters have an excellent opportunity to practice a democratic experiment and select worthy members who have experience, specialisation and integrity. This is due to their scrutiny of the legislation in a way that it does not need amendment later on, with the Senate’s input helping avoid incomplete approved laws.

Political parties

Abu Saken said, “Party life in Egypt is more than 100 years old, and the country has 100 parties, but there is a difference between the power of parties in the street and the age of the experiment.”

She explained that, despite Egypt’s pioneering experience with political parties, these parties have witnessed many periods of weakness. After the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions, there came a breakthrough in party life as it witnessed the establishment of many parties based on amending the law of parties and lifting legal restrictions.

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