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Egypt gears up for referendum

Egypt’s House of Representatives will hold a final vote on the constitutional amendments April 16, before Egyptians at home and abroad vote in a referendum.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi speaks at his swearing-in of the second presidential term, at a ceremony, at the House of Representatives in Cairo, Egypt, June 2, 2018 in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency. The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY - RC1A0126D280

CAIRO — Egyptians will vote in late April in a referendum on the constitutional amendments that the House of Representatives have been considering. Wide political support was given to these amendments during the discussions "under the dome," as Egyptians call the parliament building, where the final vote is scheduled for April 16-17.

Al-Monitor learnt from multiple parliamentary and partisan sources that the election of a 300-member Senate, which would be reinstated under the amendments, will be held before the end of 2019, most likely in the last quarter of the year.

The sources, who declined to be named, said it was decided that 100 members of the Senate would be appointed by the president, while the other 200 would be elected according to a mechanism that will be specified in the electoral law. They revealed that the head of the parliamentary Legislative Committee, Bahaa Abou Chaka, would most likely be appointed to chair the Senate.

Egyptians living abroad will cast their vote on April 19-21, and the nationwide referendum will be held on April 22-24.

On March 24, the House of Representatives released a statement indicating that the constitutional amendments procedures — hearings and final vote — “are more likely to be completed by mid-April, after which the national Elections Commission should call upon the electorate to vote in the referendum, in case the required parliamentary majority voted in favor [of the amendments]."

Article 226 of the constitution stipulates that a two-third majority is required in parliament before the amendments are referred to a public vote.

The constitutional amendments that the Egypt Support Coalition put forward Feb. 3 seek to extend the presidential term from four to six years, provided that the president does not remain in office for more than two terms in a row. They also include a transitional text allowing current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for two additional consecutive terms. On Feb. 14, 485 parliamentarians voted in favor of these amendments in the initial vote in parliament.

Political parties, especially the Nation’s Future Party, organized rallies to introduce the amendments to the public and urge voters to vote yes in the referendum, focusing on Articles 243 and 244 that provide for parliament quotas for women, youths, people with disabilities and peasants. The amendments to the electoral law will specify the percentages of this representation.

Also, fairs where commodities are sold at lower prices were held, paving the way for the people to approve of the amendments.

Under the amendments, Articles 243 and 244 stipulate that the state shall ensure an adequate representation in the House of Representatives of peasants, workers, youths, Christians, people with disabilities and Egyptians living abroad, as the anticipated law specifies.

Al-Monitor learnt that the parties allocated huge sums to the rallies, and that Sisi, who is expected to run in the 2020 presidential elections, made a number of decisions, which he announced on March 30, serving as financial incentives to prompt the people to vote for him in the two terms, according to parliamentary sources.

Speaking at a March 30 Mother's Day event organized by the National Council for Women, Sisi said that starting July 1, the minimum wage for public employees will increase from 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($69) to 2,000 pounds ($115) a month. He added that the minimum pension would be increased to 900 pounds ($52) a month. In addition, pension arrears would be paid, which is the subject of a judicial dispute between pensioners and the government.

Commenting on the political parties’ efforts to mobilize the masses, official spokesman for the Wafd Party Yasser al-Hudaibi told Al-Monitor that the party will conduct an internal vote on its stance toward the amendments, adding that should its General Assembly agree, popular rallies will be held to encourage partisans to vote yes. Of note, the Wafd Party announced being in favor of the amendments during the Legislative Committee’s hearing in parliament.

Although the majority of parliament members agreed on the amendments during the discussions, they were keen to emphasize in their official statements and remarks that it is up to the people to decide on the amendments.

On April 4, Youm7 reported Al-Sayyed Al-Sherif, parliament's first deputy speaker, as saying in an official statement that “the amendments are only considered final once approved by the people who are the ultimate decision-makers.” He added, “The community dialogue sessions in parliament have been an opportunity for all social segments to freely express their opinions regarding the amendments and to listen to the different opinions.”

The Ministry of Manpower and Immigration launched a campaign April 4, dubbed “Know … Participate … Even abroad,” to answer the questions of Egyptians living abroad on the constitutional amendments and to raise awareness of the importance of a large voter turnout in this constitutional milestone.

Shourouk News reported Minister of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs Nabila Makram as saying in an official statement April 4, “The campaign seeks to open a direct communication channel on the amendments with Egyptians living abroad and to answer their questions in this regard. The campaign aims to raise awareness of everything related to the proposed amendments among Egyptians living abroad.”

She added, “It is a national and constitutional right for them to express their opinion and vote in the referendum.”

Voters are expected to support the amendments in the referendum, given the political indications under the dome and the arties’ political and popular activities in the street.

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