Party reform: Task for Parliament or President?

14-10-2018 09:35 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

Egypt’s House of Representatives has embarked on its fourth legislative round in its five-year term, following which a new house should be elected. The agendas of the House and its committees are chockfull of legislative responsibilities, to say nothing of the House’s duties in monitoring the executive authority, overseeing the implementation of the President’s mandates, and looking into bills referred by the government.
As it stands, the House includes a few strong parties and many frail ones; they exert perpetual efforts to form a majority coalition to back the government. Strange though is that one can detect no attempts to form a strong opposition to reach political balance. The parties are scattered, each taking pride in its own identity but holding neither a specific programme that sets it apart from other parties, nor any strong presence on the Egyptian street.
Two years ago, I raised the issue of party reform, an issue that appears to be placed on hold but which I have vowed not to give up on.
On the surface, it looks like the epitome of freedom to exercise the constitutional and legal right to freely form political parties on notification. On the ground, however, this freedom has yielded a political scene that includes close to 100 parties most of which have only their founders as members. The character and programmes of most of these parties are nothing but empty rhetoric that echoes national and societal aspirations but expresses no concrete plan on how to fulfil targets. This feeble, fragmented party scene is incapable of influencing political life. And it will remain powerless until the parties unite in blocs that enjoy distinctive identities and programmes.
Every time I broach the party reform issue I am reminded of a similar experience Egypt had with its banking sector more than 20 years ago. At the time, in response to new economic laws, numerous banks appeared on the market, each seeking to attract people’s savings. But with so many banks on the scene, very few had the capacity or capital to really influence or add value to the economy. The relevant authorities consequently issued legislation that compelled any bank operating in the Egyptian market to have a minimum capital of EGP500 million [at the time], or else exit the market. Some banks were able to comply, but the smaller banks had to merge or be taken over by bigger banks. Those that failed to conform to the new rules had no option but to exit the market which was then left with fewer, stronger banks. Egypt’s banking system steadied and emerged capable of fulfilling its role in funding development projects and realising investment requirements.
Today, we are in dire need for legislation that would compel political parties to merge or exit the scene; we no longer have the luxury of inviting the parties to do so voluntarily. Over the past few years, many—including President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi himself—expressed the imperativeness for parties to merge, but the response of the parties was nothing short of empty talk and no tangible result, except for a parliamentary coalition that was made purely for political, not party, objectives.
I believe Egypt needs to place controls over the foundation and operation of political parties, the minimum being the following:
• Establishing political blocs based on party character and activity. There should be no more than five blocs representing the right, middle right, middle, middle left and left. Anyone involved with political work would know the inclinations and programmes each of these coalition offers and which gives it the character it needs to address the public.
• These five coalitions maintain for each party its own character, yet each coalition fortifies the parties which belong to it. These parties coexist in harmony, sharing the same programmes and allying together during elections to secure better chances at winning seats on local government councils or legislative councils.
• Measures should be put to ensure a minimum membership volume in any given party for it to earn legitimacy. Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be in place to test whether all the required qualifications are fulfilled. Parties that fail to politically join ranks should be annulled.
This is what I aspire for in order to achieve party reform. I still wonder, are those in charge of the parties aware of that? Does the committee for founding political parties have a prescription for reform? Will parliament do it? Or will everyone dawdle until the President issues his directives?

Watani International
14 October 2018

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