Excerpts from a lengthy piece in Ahram on opposition parties’ discontent with the new Egyptian electoral system:
Most political forces in Egypt have sharply criticised a draft law aimed at establishing a new distribution of electoral districts, agreeing that it would make it difficult for citizens to vote and for candidates to organise election campaigns.
For both houses of the legislature–the Peoples Assembly and the Shura Council–the same basic system has been adopted. It is MMM, with two-seat districts in the nominal tier (referred to ” individual candidacy”) and districts of only 4-6 in the party-list tier.
In reaction, political forces, especially secular ones, cried foul that SCAF chose to impose its blueprint on political life. Essam Shiha, a famous lawyer and a Wafd Party activist, argued that “not only has SCAF kept the individual candidacy system, but its draft of the law made it highly difficult for candidates — especially those belonging to newly-formed parties — to compete in the elections.” “It makes the size of districts covered by the party-list system very large, thus making it difficult for candidates of a particular force to compete because they will be forced to extend their campaigns to cover very large areas and in different places with no geographical relationship between them,” argued Shiha, adding that “in North Cairo, for example, the four candidates of each competing party will be forced to campaign in an area including no fewer than five million citizens.”
Shiha also argued that “in a time of security vacuum, it will be highly dangerous to hold the elections of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council on the same day.” “It means that citizens will be exposed to two kinds of election campaigns for the first time on the same day, and they will be expected to elect a large number of deputies for two houses on one day,” said Shiha.
According to the new law, when voters go to the polling stations, they will be faced with two lists of candidates for the People’s Assembly and two for the Shura Council. The first list will include candidates running as individuals and the second those running on a party ticket. Diaa Rashwan, director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said that “the organisation of the elections of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council on the same day will make the voting process very complicated and cumbersome for citizens.”
The absence of consensus between the military and the parties bodes ill for the prospects for democracy in Egypt.
Max Fisher, in The Atlantic, writes about the dangers to Egypt’s (supposed) transition to democracy posed by the electoral system chosen for November’s election.
The system adopted seems to be along the lines of what we discussed here some months ago. A potentially highly majoritarian mixed-member system: a nominal tier with 2-seat districts, and a parallel list tier with an average magnitude of only around 4.
Fisher poses the concern that it could favor the least unpopular of Egypt’s many fledgling parties.
Update: It looks like Fonseca is winning. If confirmed, it will mean a legislature with a majority from one party and a president from another party. This may seem odd to Americans, but such a situation is quite rare around the world.
As Robert Elgie noted at his blog on 10 August, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, the candidate of the main opposition party, Movement for Democracy (MFD), won the plurality in the first round, with around 37%. Manuel Inocêncio Sousa, candidate of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) won 33%. Aristides Lima, an independent breakaway from the PAICV, picked up around 25%.
Cape Verde has a history of very close presidential elections, as well as both an electoral system (variable-magnitude “PR”) and electoral cycle that have shown a pronounced bias for the PAICV in the past. (See my summary of the 2006 elections.) The country is among the relatively few to use a “counter-honeymoon” cycle whereby legislative elections regularly precede presidential by a short time period. The legislature was elected in February–a much longer gap between elections than in the past, but still counter-honeymoon–and the PAICV won a majority.
Egypt’s new electoral system will be a mixed-member system with a 50:50 split between its nominal and list tiers (Daily News Egypt, 20 July).
The district magnitude of the nominal tier will remain two, with 126 districts. The list tier will also be districted, with 58 constituencies. The average district magnitude of the list tier thus would work out to barely more than four.
While the article does not discuss the relationship between the two tiers, I will assume it is mixed-member majoritarian (MMM, or “parallel”) in the absence of anything to indicate that the list seats are compensatory (as MMP). Given the low magnitude of the list tier districts, and the use of 2-seat rather than 1-seat districts for the nominal tier, even if it were MMP in form, the proportionality would be minimal. (Assuming the retention of two votes per voter, 2-seat districts mean lower proportionality than 1-seat districts, given plurality or majority formula.)
According to Ahram, 21 July, at least two parties, the Wafd (liberal) and Freedom and Justice (Muslim Brotherhood) have indicated that they would have preferred a pure-list system. “To them, the party-list system forces citizens to elect representatives on the grounds of their political platforms rather than on tribal or familial connections,” according to the article.
The system retains the old requirement that half the seats be reserved for “workers and peasants,” although it is unclear how this applies to the two tiers. Apparently this quota is a constitutional provision. (See previous discussion of how this was applied under the dictatorship.)
The assembly size will be 514, including 10 appointees of the president.
Thanks to Tom Lundberg for sending me the Ahram article link, and Ahwa Talk for the Daily New Egypt link.
In the face of protests, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade has backed down over a proposal to change the method of presidential elections.
Instead of a majority-runoff system, Wade wanted to change to allowing 25% to suffice for a first round victory. As the Euronews story comments:
His rivals saw this as a ploy virtually guaranteeing his re-election next February, as the opposition is currently fragmented.
I guess so!
The adjusting of presidential victory thresholds reminds me of the Sandinista ploy in Nicaragua in 2006. The lowering of the threshold there was far less drastic that Wade’s gambit, and paid off–just barely–for Daniel Ortega’s return to the presidency.
Does the old man (he’s 85) in Senegal think he can’t win even 40%? Or 35%? Or 30%?…
Senegal has been generally classed as a democracy for the 11 years that Wade has been president.
Details at Ahwa Talk. The short story is that the proposal would be for a form of MMM. That is, 25% of seats via party lists, but the rest elected by the old (and odd) system that we discussed previously here.
The battle for Abidjan “appears to be reaching a climax” between the forces of de-facto president Laurent Gbagbo and the candidate most international actors agree defeated him in the 28 November runoff election, Alassane Ouattara.
It seems as if Ivorian politics has become reduced to just these two men and their followers. It is worth remembering that the first round of the presidential election, on 31 October, was very much a three-way affair.
In that election, Gbago won only 38%, Ouatara 32%, and a third candidate, Henri Konan Bédié, won 25.2%, according to official results. (There were 14 candidates in total, but no other candidate reached even 0.5%.)
Obviously supporters of Bédié split between the two, but went somewhat more for Ouattara. (Reported turnout figures were very similar in the two rounds.)
The polarization of the second round conjures up some of the worst fears of opponents of presidentialism for elections in divided societies. Ivory Coast really is divided three ways, not two, based on the first-round results.
It is not possible (at least for me) to say how things might have been different had there been a parliamentary system. Maybe the fragile political process was doomed to break down in any event. But had the first round instead been a parliamentary election to determine the composition of the government, neither Ouattara nor Gbagbo could not have claimed the mandate of a majority, following a runoff, in this divided society. Some coalition of the parties of two of these three men would have been a possible outcome.
Is Egypt’s revolution, if it ever was one, now officially over?
The results of Saturday’s referendum on amendments to the constitution–seen as a first step towards competitive elections later this year–suggest less than great excitement.
According to Ahram, the turnout was around 41%. Yes, forty one.
Of those who bothered to show up, 77.2% said yes to the amendments.
I wondered how this compared to other referenda on either a new constitution, or amendments to the pre-existing authoritarian one, in past transitions to democracy.
The following is probably missing some key cases. I put it together by perusing my volumes of the Nohlen, et al., data handbooks on Latin America and Africa, as well as some sources on Eastern Europe.*
What this means going forward, I do not know. Various reports said the pro-democracy forces were divided over whether the reforms went far enough to be worthy of a yes vote. However, I did not hear anything about an organized boycott. Yet the yes vote was fairly strong out of those who voted, while the turnout shockingly weak for a country supposedly in the process of a mass-instigated transition to democracy.
* I did not find any in Eastern Europe that took place prior to democratic elections. However, Poland’s referendum on its constitution in 1993 had a turnout on par with Egypt’s: 42.9. The yes vote was 53.5. Poland was already democratic by this point, having been governed under the interim Little Constitution.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has reached agreement in principle to run a joint list with other parties in the next parliamentary elections, its deputy leader said …
The groups at the meeting, which included the liberal Wafd party and the leftist Nasserist and Karama parties, issued a joint declaration after a press conference that called for a series of democratic reforms.
“We know that political parties have issues of tension about who is actually a leader of that political party. It will have implications in terms of how we run our processes. It is on that basis that we are saying that political parties must submit the list of those people that will be authorised. We are trying to avoid a situation where in the morning you receive a list from political parties from one specific leadership and later on another one comes and says the person who submitted the list is not authorised,” he added.
Asked how they would resolve a situation like that in Cope, where there were two factions each claiming to be in charge Tselane responded: “We are operating on the basis of information submitted to us before the (2009) elections. Until such time that there are changes we will continue to operate on the basis of information they submitted to us.”
I’m uneasy about the proposed Egyptian election schedule — I would prefer to see elections to a caretaker President first, then Constitutional reforms and finally Parliamentary elections — but I’m encouraged by the continuing forward momentum.
This seems like an odd preference to me. I can’t think of a single case anywhere in which there was a “caretaker” president elected as the first stage of a transition to elected government. In fact, I do not know if there could be such a thing as an elected president who was a mere caretaker. As soon as a president is elected, he is democratically legitimated, for better or worse. And constrained by what, if there is not yet a new constitutional framework–or even a legislature–in place?
It seems far better to elect a constituent assembly, which would also serve as an interim legislature, first. Or, as in some transitions, for the provisional (and thus still authoritarian) government to promulgate a new constitution (preferably with as wide a consultative process as possible), followed by legislative and, depending on the constitutional form, presidential elections. But electing only a president before a democratic constitution is in place seems suboptimal to me, as well as rare (if not unprecedented).
I’m watching the Al Jazeera live feed from Egypt (via Livestation). Amazing stuff.
The ruling party HQ in Cairo has been burnt to the ground by protesters. The army is on the street with armored vehicles, and Al Jazeera is reporting that some of the personnel are flying flags and waving to protesters. Reports of some live fire, apparently by police.
The international airports have been closed.
Mubarak has yet to speak to the public, but is supposed to do so today. Is he going to order a crackdown, and if so will the army do it? Is he going to announce his departure? Something in between (and surely inadequate), like a plan not to stand in the presidential elections scheduled for September?
The long authoritarian rule in Egypt may be coming to end, at least in its present form.
Update: So, finally, Mubarak went on live TV, late at night, and announced the dismissal of the cabinet, and claimed credit for all he had done to give Egyptians the freedom they were now expressing. The Muslim Brotherhood responded by calling on the army to take over.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4