Egypt’s Presidential Elections Law: A Breakdown

Bringing Egypt one step closer to achieving its transitional roadmap, on March 8, 2014, the Presidency issued the final version of its Presidential Elections Law. Although a date for the elections has not yet been set, the law clarifies a number of important requirements and guidelines for presidential candidates, as well as the nomination and election process.

The law requires that all presidential candidates be Egyptian, at least 40 years old, and a college graduate who has completed or is exempt from military service and fully enjoys his or her civil and political rights. Candidates cannot have been sentenced in a felony case or crime related to morality or dishonesty; they cannot have a physical or mental illness that prevents them from pursuing the duties of the president. Finally, candidates must have been born to Egyptian parents; the candidate, his/her spouse, and his/her children may not hold or have held any citizenship other than Egyptian. Although not yet amended, reports that the Political Rights Law may be amended for a second time to strip those referred to trial in criminal courts or those in custody pending trial and subject to conviction, of their political rights (including the right to run for president) have surfaced, effectively adding yet another requirement for presidential candidacy and banning individuals like former President Hosni Mubarak, Mohamed Morsi, and a number of imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood leaders and revolutionary activists from the political scene.

Interested candidates must collect the signatures of at least twenty members of Parliament or 25,000 voting citizens from at least fifteen different governorates (with a minimum of at least 1,000 from each governorate). Under Egypt’s current circumstances, the latter is the only option available to candidates in the absence of a parliament. In addition to submitting these signatures, candidates must also present a birth certificate, college degree, proof of citizenship, criminal record, certificate of military draft completion, financial disclosure form, and medical examination to establish their eligibility.

The law sets forth the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) as the body to monitor and logistically run elections. The Commission is headed by the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court and is made up of the head of the Cairo Appeals Court, the longest-serving deputy of the Supreme Constitutional Court, the longest-serving deputy of the Appeals Court, and the longest-serving deputy of the State Council. The PEC is an independent body with its own budget; its decisions must be approved by a majority of at least three members, are final, and cannot be appealed, raising questions on the expansive power granted to the body and leaving many in disagreement on the matter. Explaining the new provision, President Adly Mansour’s legal advisor Ali Awad noted that it is important to prevent delays during this transitional period; thus, making appeals problematic. Furthermore, he stated that while the Constitution allows administrative appeals, the decisions of the PEC are judicial and thus not subject to this same provision. Despite all of this, presidential candidates will still be allowed to submit complaints to the PEC if their candidacies are rejected and/or file appeals with the Supreme Constitutional Court on relevant matters.

As per the law, the duties of the PEC include maintaining voter lists, facilitating the nomination process, vetting the proposed presidential candidates, facilitating the campaign period, announcing the dates for voting, facilitating the involvement of the media and civil society groups in election monitoring, sorting through votes, and announcing the final election results.

On the issue of campaigning, the law states that all campaign materials must refrain from interfering in the private lives of candidates, threatening national unity, using religious slogans to distinguish between citizens, resorting to violence, presenting gifts or money to ascertain votes, using public buildings and transportation, spending public funds, writing or drawing on buildings, and placing flyers on locations not approved by the PEC. The law also notes that state-owned media entities have a duty to provide all candidates with an equal chance to present their campaigns and platforms. Although the media is permitted to cover the results of polls and surveys conducted by independent entities before the election takes place, it may not do so within five days of the election date.

A campaign spending limit of EGP20 million is set for each candidate and EGP5 million in the case of runoffs; in the 2012 elections, the spending limit was EGP10 million and EGP2 million respectively. The law also states that no candidate may receive a donation from an individual person that would amount to more than 2 percent of the spending limit; donations may not be accepted from non-Egyptians, foreign countries, international organizations, or foreign entities. Campaign finances must be managed in a bank account, the details of which are made publicly available.

The law also lays out very specific details regarding the actual voting process and subsequent vote count. Vote results must be announced within 5 days of receipt of vote tallies from polling stations and centers. The victor in a presidential race must win by an absolute majority of valid votes. If no candidate receives an absolute majority, a runoff will take place. If only one candidate is contesting the presidential elections, he or she must receive the votes of at least 5 percent of all eligible voters. With rumblings that Hamdeen Sabbahy may withdraw his candidacy and uncertainties about the other names in the pool including Sami Anan and Murtada Mansour, this unseemingly relevant clause may very well come into effect if Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ends up being the only candidate to contest the election. 

Ultimately, Egypt’s Presidential Elections Law, which replaces its 2005 predecessor (which allowed multicandidate elections for the first time), addresses the multiple levels of preparation and implementation involved in a presidential election. The articles of the law invoke the various complications that Egypt has contended with in previous elections, including but limited to the use of religious slogans, vote buying and fraud, and campaign spending limits. In a tense political environment that is witnessing the rise of one remarkably popular candidate that stands from among the rest, it will certainly be interesting to observe how implementation of the law plays out.

Mai El-Sadany is a law student at the Georgetown University Law Center, with an intent to focus on international and human rights law in the context of Middle East politics.

Image: Photo: Ahmed Abdel-Fatah