New parliament, missing bylaw and the legal labyrinths ahead

Tuesday 01-12-2015 09:19 PM
New parliament, missing bylaw and the legal labyrinths ahead

Inaugural session of parliament in January 2012 - Asmaa Wageeh/REUTERS


By Safaa Essam Al-Din

CAIRO, Nov. 30 (Aswat Masriya) – For over four decades, Egyptian legislatures have been regulated by the same 1971 419-article bylaw. But with new powers invested in parliament via the 2014 constitution, this bylaw is no longer valid, placing Egypt’s incoming House of Representatives in a legal conundrum.

The new parliament has unprecedented powers, including the ability to withdraw confidence from the prime minister, other ministers or even propose to withdraw it from the president through a supermajority vote.

But it is unclear how the legislature will execute any of its powers in the absence of a bylaw.

Typically, the speaker of the house and two deputies are elected in the first parliamentary session, but without a bylaw, there are no rules to govern this process.

Further complicating the situation, the 2014 constitution stipulates that the bylaws “shall be set” by the elected House of Representatives, according to Article 118.  

On Saturday, the “For the Love of Egypt” coalition, which reaped all 120 seats contested under the electoral lists system, sent an official request to the Egyptian presidency proposing that the executive authority pass a bylaw consisting of only three articles to manage the House until the new law is drafted and adopted.

Recently elected legislator Alaa Abdel Moneim, a leading figure in the “For the Love of Egypt” coalition told Aswat Masriya that only the House has the authority to come up with its own bylaws, but added that this request stemmed from a necessity in order to organise the legislature’s first session.

Abdel Moneim said that the previous bylaw stated that the Speaker of the House must win 50 percent plus one votes. This was permissible when the now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) dominated the legislature, he said.

Under former president Hosni Mubarak, who was removed by popular uprising in 2011, the NDP typically controlled parliament through a sweeping majoirty gained in often questionable elections. 

The authors of this bylaw did not consider the possibility of having to repeat the vote to elect the Speaker because the NDP always held a majority which guaranteed that their choice would win, Abdel Moneim said. 

But since such a majority no longer exists, it is likely that the vote will be repeated and so the process must be regulated, he explained.

“For the Love of Egypt” coalition, the brainchild of former military intelligence general Sameh Seif Elyazal, is the largest bloc so far in the upcoming parliament. Even if President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi names all of the five percent (28) seats earmarked for presidential appointees, the coalition will still hold over one fifth of the House’s 596 seats.

The first of the temporary bylaw articles proposed by the coalition says that in case no candidate for speaker or deputies receives absolute majority, the voting should be repeated to choose between the top two candidates.

The coalition also suggested that the 1971 bylaw be temporarily adopted to regulate proceedings until the House passes the new bylaw; while the third article states that the elected Speaker will receive suggestions for the draft bylaw from parties, parliamentarians and the government and will hand them over to the legislature’s legislative committee, setting a one month deadline, starting from the date of the first session, for its finalization

Why issue a new bylaw?

Amr Hashem Rabie, a researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies told Aswat Masriya that the current constitution has changed the nature of the relationship between the legislative, executive and judicial powers and between "the ruler and those being ruled,” as well as political parties.

He described the changes as “dramatic” adding that they constitute a “fundamental difference” in the political and legislative systems.

He said the old bylaw was “authoritarian” in nature and that it consolidated power the hands of the Speaker.

“We urgently need to change it,” he said.  

Rabie noted that one of the failings of the old bylaw was that it limited the legislature’s regulatory role.

Interpellations ended by simply moving on to the next item on the agenda and the ministers would leave the podium with a clean slate all because of the speaker’s domination over the session, he explained.

Ramy Mohsen  the director of the National Center for Research and Consultancies said the previous bylaw organised parliamentary life for a bicameral People’s Assembly, which no longer exists.

Previously parliament was made up of a lower house, the People’s Assembly and an upper house, the Shura Council which was cancelled to give way to a single unicameral House of Representatives.

The bylaw is no longer appropriate for the upcoming legislature, Mohsen said, especially since the House now has the authority to play a role in choosing the Cabinet to withdraw confidence from top officials.

However, he noted, amending the bylaws will take a long time and it is preferable to  regulate the House using temporary bylaws.

He agrees with Rabie that the system created by the previous bylaw was flawed. “Not a single interpellation has ended without thanking the government,” adding that no government questioning has ever ended with withdrawing confidence from an official.

Partisan initiatives

Parties have weighed in on how to deal with the absence of a bylaw. 

The "Future of a Nation", a youth-dominated party led by Mohamed Badran, known to be close to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, which reaped the second largest number of seats, 48 so far, by a single party said the party has not yet discussed the matter.

Spokesman Ahmed Sami said that the party is waiting for the final election results before their parliamentary bloc discusses the issue.

Elections for the House of Representatives are still ongoing, with the second and final phase of the poll to end tomorrow. Only nine candidates running for individual seats won in the first round. 

The rest of the candidates did not collect the minimum number of voters needed to reap a seat, leaving 213 seats to be filled through run-offs. The run-offs are due to be completed on Wednesday evening.

The Free Egyptians Party, however, has a plan to deal with the legal vaccuum. Legislator and assistant secretary general of the party, Ayman Abul Ela told Aswat Masriya in a telephone interview that the party will present a draft law to amend the bylaws.

All the current procedures, he said, referring to the outdated bylaw, are "unconstitutional" since the bylaw does not regulate the representatives' rights and duties. He added that the previous bylaw was "cosmetic" and "dictatorial".

The party plans to work on adding more committees in parliament and splitting existing ones such as creating a committee for tourism instead of including it with the media and culture committee. 

They also want to split complaints and suggestions into two separate committees.

Akram al-Alfy, a researcher in parliamentary affairs, says the traditionally the eldest MP steps up to head the first session of parliament, which may be the case in the absence of a bylaw.

However, the issue will not be easily resolved, he said. There are no veteran parliamentarians who understand the nature of parliament. 

"Even the Mubarak-era winners lack parliamentary experience," he added.

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