More criticism of the Egyptian electoral system

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.

8 thoughts on “More criticism of the Egyptian electoral system

  1. What is needed is for an eminent political scientist to prepare an idiot’s guide to electoral democracy for countries in transition, preferably with an actual law included. Although, noting the similarities between this electoral system is to Chile’s military-designed system, you’d have to wonder if this is ignorance or deliberate design.

  2. Choosing a small-M-system means is choosing extra workload and debatable decisions (districting) before the elections… and isn’t that something to avert in a situation like Egypt now?

  3. It’s difficult to follow the discussions on the egyptian electoral law. Can someone give a timeline of the drafts (SCAF) and subsequent amendments?

    Now NYTimes says: “The agreement provides for two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to be filled by party lists through proportional representation, and one-third by individual candidates elected in head-to-head races. Candidates on party lists could run individually as well.”

  4. Egypt’s model of MMM is more proportional than many, with two-thirds of the deputies elected by PR. How close to perfect proportionality does a model have to be before one can say “this is a PR system?” For example, some purists say Scotland’s model is only “semi-proportional” because it lacks the national top-up feature found in Sweden.

    Take the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With only 60 SMDs, and 440 proportional deputies, can we call it a PR model? Does it depend on whether one party sweeps the 60 SMDs? Take Greece: 260 proportional deputies, and a bonus of 40 deputies for the largest party or electoral alliance, which they call “reinforced PR.” PR?

    Take Turkey’s 2002 election: 34.3% of the vote generated 66% of the seats, after about 37% of the voters cast votes for five parties that got more than 5% of the vote but less than Turkey’s outrageous 10% threshold; a PR system on paper, but not one most European democrats would recgnize. Yet the EU sets the bar low for their Parliament: they let Ireland elect 12 MEPs from four three-seaters, excluding even the 11.2% who voted for Sinn Fein, while Northern Ireland rightly concluded that STV with M less than 6 was not good enough.

    Chile with all two-seaters is, in theory, a PR system; what if it had some SMDs too? Is any model with M more than 1.0 a PR system, no matter how disproportional the results?

  5. @Wilf
    I would say that any method designed to produce proportional outcomes could be called PR, but there are certainly degrees of proportionality. I would also say that MMM, cumulative voting, and limited voting/SNTV are semi-proportional because they can produce somewhat proportional results (though there is no guarantee of that). PR is impossible with magnitude less than 3 and not especially accurate with less than 10 or so because of the natural threshold.

    Egypt’s MMM would be unusually proportional for an MMM system if the list seats were allocated nationally or in a few large districts (as in Mexico). However, the large number of small districts will limit proportionality and sharply restrict the number of parties that can win seats.

  6. Test.

    (Yes, the comment settings had spontaneously changed themselves again, and I want to see if I have been able to manually correct them again.)

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