Egypt is about to conclude the process of electing a new House of Representatives. Today, voters belonging to the 13 governorates of the second phase of the elections continue to cast their ballots for the second and final day. Voters belonging to the other 14 governorates have already voted in the first phase some two weeks ago. Following the reruns of the second phase, which will take place on 5 – 8 December, the National Elections Authority will announce the final results of the elections. The new House of Representatives will then be complete; it will include 586 elected seats, half of them for individual candidates and the other half for list candidates. Five per cent of the seats will wait for the MPs to be named by the President.
Egypt will thus be ready for a new five-year parliamentary round. Among the new features of the upcoming round is the bicameral parliament consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Since 2012, Egypt had a unicameral parliament, until the Senate was elected earlier this year and held its first session last October.
All eyes are on the two houses of parliament, hoping they would complement each other in legislating for Egypt. In addition to its legislative role, the House of Representatives also assumes the role of overseeing the executive authority.
The upcoming House of Representatives comes with a new formation endorsed by the previous House last August. Individual candidates are assigned 284 seats that cover 143 constituencies. The same number of seats is assigned for party lists covering four [larger] constituencies. This formation respects balances that ensure fair representation of women, Christians, workers, peasants, youth, persons with disabilities and Egyptians residing outside Egypt.
The electoral system of party lists in parallel with individual candidates bodes well as far as the parliamentary role of MPs is concerned, be that legislative or supervisory, on the national and sectorallevels. In fact, the coalitions according to which the lists were formed promise that parliament would include homogeneous groups that could eventually blend into coalitions that could in turn pave the way for a democratic climate of parliamentary majority and minority, a situation in the interest of both legislation and supervision. For years on end, we have waited for political parties to attain that, but they never did. On the sectoral level, the new formation ensures diverse representation that expresses and works to answer the demands and needs of major sectors in society. But this is attained not through mobilising the support of the MPs that represent that sector, a move not without hazards, but through rallying the majority behind the demands of the various sectors.
The individual seats of the House are divided between party and independent candidates. Party candidates are loyal to their respective parties which we hope would join in coalitions rather than playing it alone and thus exercising little impact. Independent candidates are still an enigma in what concerns their position from political coalitions, and their voting weight which greatly hinges on their alignment together or with others in the House.
The traditional prototype of an individual MP is that of one who won the election on account of his or her popularity and the weight of the family or clan they belong to. Such MPs were usually termed “service MPs” owing to the services they offered their communities. Given their closeness to their constituents, these MPs were fully aware of the conditions, problems, needs and aspirations of the constituency, and were hence in an excellent position to deliver them. In addition to assuming their legislative and supervisory roles as MPs, they are committed to fulfil the needs of the people who voted for them. But these measures have changed in the new formation of the House of Representatives, because the number of individual seats has retracted in favour of list seats. Accordingly, the span of the constituencies has expanded, and deprived smaller constituencies of the privilege of gaining tailored representation. With the new formation, MPs cannot cover the full geographical span of their constituencies, or get in personal touch with those who voted them in. This is particularly the case in large cities such as Cairo and Giza where some members in the previous House refrained from running for the new House due to their incapacity to cover the now larger constituencies and get in direct touch with their residents.
This poses a question over the MP-voter relationship, and it makes one anxiously wonder whether the “nation’s representative” will take over the “constituency’s representative”. Will this change have a positive impact in favour of parliamentary work, or will it have a negative impact? The parliamentary experience of the House of Representatives in its new formation is bound to answer this question.
8 November 2020