Egyptian SCAF unveils new electoral system

Egyptian Army council General Mamdouh Shahin announced on Wednesday final amendments to the country’s electoral law. The new system has a lot in common with what I previously wrote about, with some key changes. Under the new system, fifty percent of seats in the lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly, will be awarded through closed-list proportional representation, while the other half will be awarded in two-seat districts.  This is a change from the draft law the SCAF put out where only one third of seats would be PR.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the extremely low threshold for entering parliament, which was placed at 1/2 of all national votes.

The new law also abolishes the 64 seats reserved for women, which was instituted before the last election in 2010. In its place is a provision that mandates every party list must include at least one female. Other changes in the law include lowering the age for candidate eligibility from 30 to 25, and stipulating that elections take place in three stages.

I can think of three major implications of the new laws.  Let’s start with the new PR tier.  The ordinal tier of seats will be divided into 58 constituencies, which for 252 seats (half of the 504 elected members) will create an average district magnitude of 4.3  That’s not very proportional; combined with the two seat districts this system still looks very majoritarian.   This makes the .5% threshold all the more bizarre.  As far as I know this would make Egypt’s threshold the lowest in the world, even more so than neighboring Israel.  While Israel’s one nationwide district allows for extreme party fragmentation, however, I don’t think Egypt’s threshold will have much impact.  Maybe Egypt’s planners read Carey and Hix’s recent paper, The Electoral Sweet Spot: Low-Magnitude Proportional Electoral Systems.  In the paper, the authors,  find an optimal district magnitude – around three to eight seats – which produces low party fragmentation while still retaining a level of proportionality associated with higher seats per district.  This sort of assumes, however, that the other half of seats aren’t awarded in the strange two-seat districts that Egypt’s will be.

The second, somewhat related point, is the impact this system will have on women’s representation.  Mandating one candidate per list be female is a weak stipulation.  With no requirement for where on the list the women has to be, it will be easy for a party to bury women at the bottom of their lists.  This incentive will only increase in small magnitude districts as it will become more likely that only the top one or two candidates will be elected.

As far as the three stages for elections go, I think this is also a bad idea.  The fear I have with this is it will give parties an incentive to call for a boycott after the first stage if they don’t like the results.  This could have the effect of delegitimizing an otherwise well-conducted election.  (I’m not assuming it will be of course).

Posted on July 23, 2011, in Elections, Electoral Systems, Middle East and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Dave, I’m a newbie in the world of Parliamentary Elections, explain your first point. What an average district magnitude?
    I read that the party that gets less than 0.05% (or i guess it’s 0.5 – the website i
    m checking probably has a typo) won’t have seats and their votes will be blocked. I don’t really understand the implications…

    All in all I’m no fan of the lists, I don’t understand what’s the problem with voting for individuals?

  2. District magnitude refers to the number of seats in each electoral district. So the average district magnitude was my calculation for the average number of seats in each PR district. The larger a PR district is, the more proportional it should be, as a district with only one seat, for example, would just be a winner-take-all scenario.

    I’m trying to figure out the implications of the 0.5 number as well. Most system have a threshold like that (usually at 5%) to prevent a number of small parties from entering parliament. The thinking is that too many small parties can cause unstable governing coalitions.

    The difference between lists and individual voting is largely subjective. I personally prefer lists because (1) they are more proportional than winner take all individual seats, and (2) they strengthen political parties versus individuals. Parties have a bad reputation but in truth they are the best way to aggregate voter demands by defining clear policy positions that the voter can choose from. It’s much easier, for example, for a voter to consciously move policy to the right or the left if they know what each party stands for. By voting for an individual, voters are largely relying on the candidates personality. Lists are also demonstrably better at reducing corruption.

  1. Pingback: Democracy and Society » Egyptian SCAF unveils new electoral system

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