Year ender: What to expect from the new parliament, the parallel parliament?

A new parliament dominated by the ruling party was elected in 2010, while a new parallel parliament composed of opposition and independent MPs ousted in these elections is also being established. Nationwide elections held for the two houses of parliament–the Shura Council (upper consultative house) and the People's Assembly– resulted in the National Democratic Party capturing an overwhelming majority of seats in both.

Opposition forces argue that members of these legislative chambers have been handpicked to pave the way for the ruling party's takeover of presidential elections scheduled for September 2011. Reports of widespread vote-rigging, ballot-buying, thuggery and systematic electoral fraud have cast doubt upon the legitimacy and future prospects of this parliament.

In addition to plans to create a parallel parliament, hundreds of appeals have been filed with the judiciary calling for the annulment of elections in certain circuits, or the annulment of the new parliament altogether. 

"The judiciary's role has been honorable in terms of monitoring of these so-called elections," said ousted MP Essam Mokhtar, one of 88 Muslim Brotherhood MPs who lost their seats. "But the ruling party clearly does not respect the rule of law. So even if the courts rule against this parliament, the NDP will neither recognize nor implement its rulings."

The ruling party's Ahmed Ezz, a parliamentarian, billionaire steel magnate, and the NDP's Secretary of Organizational Affairs who has been dubbed "the conductor" of these elections, was unavailable for comments or questions.

The People's Assembly of 2010-15, is unlike any other before it. With the addition of 64 female MPs — elected thanks to the new 'women's quota' — its membership has been expanded from 454 to 518. Yet with the majority of these female legislators hailing from the NDP, will this new quota actually serve to protect the interests of Egypt's women, or will it serve to protect the interests of Egypt's ruling party?

Commenting on the women's quota at a conference, on 9 November, First Lady Suzanne Mubarak announced that Egypt "needs a powerful representation of women in parliament" in order to defend the rights of females, and "the quota for female parliamentarians is not an Egyptian innovation, as 97 countries implement such a system." Yet opposition female MPs and women's rights NGOs have expressed less optimism regarding this quota.

With the NDP capturing more than 90 percent of the seats in the People's Assembly, and opposition and independent MPs representing less than 10 percent, "the National Democratic Party will face very little resistance in terms of issuing legislation in line with the ruling regime's whims," said Mokhtar.

"I'm still looking into this parallel parliament; I'm not sure if I will join," he said. "While serving in the official parliament, we opposition and independent MPs were subjected media blackouts, so imagine how much repression this unofficial parallel parliament will be confronted with."

Ousted independent MP Mustafa el-Gindi, a member of the parallel parliament project, has previously said "all legislation and draft laws will be put forth before the parallel parliament which will study their provisions." Gindi added that "we intend on consulting the populace regarding these laws via our offices, telephone, fax, and the internet."

A number of members of the project refer to it as "the popular parliament," since Egyptian law does not allow for the establishment of such parallel institutions.

"With no official or legal basis, it will be extremely difficult for this parallel parliament to accomplish anything," said Mokhtar.

Other political analysts echoed that opinion, arguing that the parliament is doomed to fail. This group plans to convene its first session during the first week of January.

Only a handful of former MPs from the Muslim Brotherhood, have joined this alternative parliament, while ousted parliamentarians from the liberal Al-Wafd Party, the Nasserist Karama Party, and independents are prominent within the group. A number of opposition parties and movements have suspended the memberships of their candidates who won seats in the elections of 28 November, or the runoffs of 5 December. These suspensions have resulted in schisms and infighting within the ranks of the opposition.

At least eight people died as a result of election-related violence, while dozens of others were injured, and hundreds of opposition activists — primarily from the Muslim Brotherhood — were reportedly arrested before the elections.

As for the Shura Council's midterm elections last June, which received far less attention, coverage, and lower voter-turnout rates than the People's Assembly elections, the NDP won 80 out of 88 contested seats. Small opposition parties won four seats, and independents won four other seats, while 44 members were appointed — primarily from the ruling party. The NDP thus captured more than 90 percent or 120 of 132 total seats.

The role of smaller parties in parliament may be negligible in terms of their influence on legislation, yet their presence in these legislative councils means that they may nominate their own presidential candidates during the elections of 2011. Article 76 of the Egyptian Constitution allows these parties to field presidential candidates if they are officially licensed and have existed for more than five years.

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