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Egyptian Parliamentary Elections, Part 1: The Rules

by Hüseyin Koyuncu, Arab Spring Series // Published February 13, 2012
woman voting

 

Egyptian Parliamentary Elections, Part 1: The Rules 

 

Since former President Hosni Mubarak’s departure, a military junta led by Marshal Tantawi has overseen the Egypt. It has promised to transfer power to civilian authorities as soon as an assembly, a government, and a president are elected. 

On January 25, 2012, almost a year to the day after the outbreak of “the Tahrir Square revolution” in Cairo, Egyptians celebrated their most democratically elected parliament in their history ; after elections occurring over several phases from late November 2011 to January 2012.

This is the first in a series of three blogposts in which we explore Egypt’s transition to democracy. This post outlines the electoral methods by which Egyptians elected Members to the new Peoples’ Assembly, explaining how some seats were elected using a proportional voting system and others via winner-take-all. In the second post, we will examine more closely the election results of select districts and how voting procedures affected the outcomes. Finally, we will conclude this series by looking at the landslide victory of the Islamist parties, discussing its implications for the future. 

                                                                    *                    *                    *                             

Following the ouster of Mubarak, leaders of the protest movement and military leaders sought to establish rules for free and fair elections, with the military government largely in control of the process. As such, the Supreme Council of the Arms Forces amended the constitution in September of last year, enacting a number of important changes. 

As a first step, the amendment altered the methods by which deputies are selected, replacing the discredited framework of the Mubarak era with a “hybrid” of proportional allocation and winner-take-all. Finally, the amendment established specific requirements for the final composition of the People’s Assembly, stipulating that at least half of the chamber’s deputies must be either “workers or farmers,” as opposed to “professionals.” Left unchanged, however, was the presence of ten unelected, appointed deputies, a privilege—previously held by Mubarak—that the Supreme Council kept for itself. As such, only 498 of 508 deputies are elected. 

Deputies Elected Using Proportional Allocation

Under the new rules, two-thirds of the Peoples’ Assembly, or 332 seats, were elected using party lists paired with proportional allocation. These seats, furthermore, were divided among 46 districts, which, depending on their size, selected anywhere from four to twelve deputies. Within a given district, each party composed an ordered list containing the names of its candidates, with the constitution having required each list to alternate between a “professional” candidate and a “worker or farmer” in order to ensure diversity—a party could, however, choose with which “type” to begin its list. Finally, a party’s list needed to contain at least one woman—whether “professional” or “worker/farmer.”

The number of seats in a district also determined the percentage of the vote necessary to win a seat—called a “threshold,” found by dividing 100% by the number of seats. For example, in an eight-seat district, the threshold for one seat would have been 12.5% +1 vote, for two seats 25.0% +1 vote, for three seats 37.5% +1 vote, and so on. Parties, then, won a number of seats based on their share of the vote. Each party followed its previously determined list to award seats; candidates toward the top of the list had a greater likelihood of being elected, whereas those on the bottom faced longer odds.

Often, seats in a district remained after the initial round of threshold-based allocation. Any extra seats are distributed using the highest remainder method, in which the first unallocated seat went to the party with greatest “unused” share of the vote, the second seat to the next greatest “unused” share, and so forth. Consider the following hypothetical example below:

Party

Share of
Vote

Seats Won With Threshold

Share Vote “Used”

Share of Vote “Unused”

Seats Won with Remainder

Total Seats Won

Vote Exhausted?

A

43.5%

3

37.5%

6.0%

1

4

Yes

B

22.0%

1

12.5%

9.5%

1

2

Yes

C

17.5%

1

12.5%

5.0%

0

1

Yes

D

8.5%

0

0.0%

8.5%

1

1

Yes

E

5.0%

0

0.0%

5.0%

0

0

No (5.0%)

F

3.5%

0

0.0%

3.5%

0

0

No (3.5%)

Totals

100.0%

5

62.5%

37.5%

3

8

91.5%

 
As can be seen in the table above, five of the district’s eight seats were allocated using the threshold, leaving three seats to divide amongst the parties via highest remainder. With the greatest “unused” vote share, 9.5%, Party B won the first seat, exhausting its entire vote. Next came Party C, the 8.5% of which earned it the second extra seat, while Party A picked up the final seat with 6.0%.

Deputies Elected Using Winner-Take-All Runoff

Under the new rules, one-third of the Peoples’ Assembly, or 166 seats, were elected using winner-take-all combined with a runoff system (if necessary)—this method was intended for independent candidates. These seats, furthermore, were divided among 83 constituencies, each electing two deputies. The constitution required that each constituency send at least one “worker/framer” to the Peoples’ Assembly; the rules proscribed the election of two “professionals.” Each voter had two votes. To win a seat, a candidate needed to receive 50.0% +1 vote of valid ballots. If two candidates received a majority of the vote, then the election was complete—provided at least one was a “worker/farmer.”

Importantly, after this vote, one or more seats could have remained unallocated, and for a number of reasons. Perhaps no candidate won an outright majority; perhaps only one candidate did; or, perhaps two “professionals” earned 50.0% +1 vote, when the constitution allowed only one to become a deputy. Regardless, the election (if necessary) transitioned into a second round, held later. Depending on what transpired in the first round, in the runoff, a number of scenarios could have occurred:

  • If two seats remained unfilled after the first round, the runoff for two seats included the top four candidates from before, at least two of which needed to be “workers/farmers.” One of the winners was required to be a “worker/farmer.” 
  • If one seat remained unfilled and the first round winner was a “professional,” the runoff for one seat included the top two “worker/farmer” candidates from the first round; “professionals” could not run.
  • If one seat remained unfilled and the first round winner was a “worker/farmer,” the runoff for one seat included the top two candidates—irrespective of “type”—from before.

 

In the next edition of this series, we will look at how this system—a “hybrid” of proportionality and winner-take-all—affected the outcomes in certain districts and constituencies.

 

                                                                                                               Sheahan Virgin also contibuted to this blog