On amending the Constitution

17-02-2019 09:30 AM

Youssef Sidhom


Youssef Sidhom

Problems on Hold

Now that the House of Representatives has consented to the request submitted by 155 MPs to amend the Constitution, and after it ensured that the request answered all the constitutional and procedural requirements stipulated by Article 226, Egypt embarks on the crucial phase during which the proposed amendments are discussed and drafted, then put up for public referendum.
Let us look into Article 226 of the Constitution, which governs the approval of any constitutional amendment. The article comes under the Chapter VI titled: “General and Transitional Provisions”. It reads:
“The president of the republic, or one-fifth of the members of the House of Representatives, may request the amendment of one or more articles of the Constitution. The request should specify the articles proposed for amendment and the reasons for amendment. In all cases, the House of Representatives shall discuss the amendment request within 30 days of the date it receives that request. The House shall issue its decision to accept the request in full or in part by a majority of its members. If the request is rejected, amendment of the same articles may not be again requested till the following legislative round. If the House consents to the amendment request, it shall discuss the text of the articles to be amended, after 60 days of the date of consent. If approved by a two-third House majority, the amendment shall be put up for public referendum within 30 days of its approval. The amendment shall be effective on the date on which the referendum result is announced, approved by a majority of the valid votes of the participants in the referendum. In all cases, texts pertaining to the re-election of the president of the republic or the principles of freedom or equality stipulated in this Constitution may not be amended, unless the amendment brings further guarantees.”
I feel certain the amendments proposed by the 155 MPs will preoccupy political, parliamentary and media circles during the coming period, as well as the general public of course. The amendments include:
• Supporting the representation of women in representative councils, and reserving a constitutional quota for them.
My comment: this demand is good on the surface, but remains subject to the quota to be allotted, also to how and by whom this quota would be determined. In this situation I feel torn between two standpoints. The first is that the empowerment of women was supposedly a transitional measure linked to a specific period of time following which women would be left to earn their representation in parliament according to their political competence; their representation could very well exceed the pre-determined quota. The second standpoint is based on women constituting one-half of the community, hence any quota below 50 per cent of the seats is tantamount to an affront, extreme belittlement, and an underestimation of women’s capacity to compete on representation.
• Continued representation of workers, peasants, youth, Copts, Egyptians abroad and persons with disabilities, in extension to their current provisional representation.
My comment: This demand too is good on the surface, yet is suspiciously suggestive of dividing the parliamentary cake into fixed quotas. It has the negative consequence of advocating division instead of political merit, and also imposes custody over the will of the voters. The quota system is applied in Lebanon, and has always been rejected by Egyptian national circles. The constitutional text that organises the representation of these various sectors intended the quotas as only a transitory measure to ensure their participation, after which they would be weaned of the quotas. By that time, these sectors would be able to make it to parliament on their own without the support of pre-imposed quotas. This constitutional requirement was not intended to encroach on electoral competence or voters’ freedom.
• The possibility of appointing one or more vice presidents.
My comment: The significance of this request hinges on the role and prerogatives assigned by the Constitution to vice president. The role of vice president cannot be restricted to sitting in for the president in ceremonies, celebrations or foreign visits, or even protocol functions. The need for this post must be confirmed according to the actual role assigned to it in the political effort. We can use as reference similar models of this post in developed democratic nations.
• Amendment of the presidential term to become six years instead of the current four, and setting the required transitional rules.
My comment: I am well aware that this amendment will garner the major part of debates in circles discussing the proposed constitutional amendments. Let me draw the line between two very important issues: first, the amendment at hand proposes amending the presidential term from the four years stipulated in Article 140 of the Constitution to six years, it does not breach the clause in Article 140 that stipulates: “…The President may be re-elected only once…”. We must thus not get carried away by misgivings of some intention to extend the number of presidential terms beyond that stipulated by the Constitution. The second more important concern is, in case it is agreed to prolong the presidential term from four to six years, will this amendment apply to the current presidential term of President Sisi? Or will it be effective starting the term that follows its endorsement? This is the point that all circles are anticipating.
I will carry on reviewing the remaining items proposed for constitutional amendments in an upcoming editorial.

Watani International
17 February 2019

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