Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

One or Two Houses of Parliament: Would it Make a Difference?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Laila El Baradei
September 19, 202

One or Two Doors May Lead to the Same Path
Photography by Laila El Baradei

We have just had elections in Egypt for an upper house of parliament—a senate, or in Arabic, “Majlis el sheyoukh.” The elections turnout was quite low, reaching only 14.2% of registered voters. This denoted a remarkable level of apathy and a matter that extremely upset the High Elections Committee, to the extent that the Committee decided to refer all 54 million non-voters to the prosecution and fine each EGP 500! These fines are stated in the Egyptian law, and were used as a threat in previous elections, yet they were never collected before.

The Senate elections were held in August, with many people enjoying their summer holidays and with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging. Things have improved a little bit with the pandemic, and reported cases are taking a downward trend, but we are not in the clear yet. Why then the urge for conducting elections at this critical time? Is there an urgent need to have a bi-cameral system? What are the pros and cons?

After the January 25th Revolution in 2011 and the following change in the constitution in 2014, it was decided that one house of parliament is enough over the time being, taking into consideration that Egypt is a developing country and there is no need for squandering resources. In 2019, with the set of changes introduced to the constitution, and voted upon, this constitutional article was changed to allow for a second house of parliament. In Egypt, we have been moving to and fro between having a unicameral and a bicameral system. The 1923 constitution established two houses, but with the 1952 Revolution, the Upper house was dissolved. It came back again in 1980 under the name of the Shura Council, but was cancelled again in 2014.

The new House of Senate will be formed by 300 members, one third of whom will be appointed by the President of the Republic and the others elected through a mixed individual and party list system. Members in the senate are required to have at least a university bachelor’s degree, and be above 35 years old, which is not the case for the Lower house, where only a literacy certificate is required and a minimum age of 25.

The reasons stated by those in agreement with having a House of Senate in Egypt include:

  • That we already had a bicameral system before 2011, although the second house then was referred to as the, “Shura Council,” or the Consultative Council;
  • That it will help the current parliament in fulfilling its role
  • That most countries have two houses of parliament
  • That it will contribute to a better and more accurate review of legislations
  • That it will be consulted on any changes to the constitution, or on laws considered as complementary to the constitution; all international treaties and the general plan for social and economic development
  • That it will lessen the work load currently imposed on the lower house

Additionally, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) mentions that some of the benefits of having a second house are to avoid concentration of power in a single assembly and to make sure that there is a second level of review by a house of, “Distinct composition, function and powers.”

Those against having a second house of parliament are concerned about the potential unnecessary unaffordable extravagance associated with having a second house of parliament at the current economically challenging period of time amid the pandemic. Having a second level of review for legislations may represent unnecessary delays. Contrary, to circulated news, according to IDEA  in 2017, only around 80 countries worldwide have a bicameral system. Furthermore, reference is made to the historical background of establishing an Upper house of parliament in Britain to separate between the Elite in the house of Lords and the public elected members in the House of Commons. The original setup was designed to give the aristocratic class a veto power over policies made at the lower house. This elitist segregation is no longer the case in many bicameral systems, yet it is still looked down upon and always remembered as one of the main reasons for having two houses.

The results of the first round for the Senate House elections have just come out, with one party—not surprisingly, that in support of government—winning all of the 100 party list seats, and nearly 80% of the individual seats. The President of the Republic will be responsible for appointing the remaining one hundred members.

We need a parliamentary system that works for the benefit of the people and improves on the quality of legislations. Despite the burdensome expenses related to the elections and later to the operation of the second house of parliament, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the dire national economic situation, the rising unemployment rates, the seemingly homogeneous political affiliation of the forthcoming Egyptian House of Senates, the low performance of Egypt on rule of law indicators and democracy rankings, we need to remain hopeful that the newly elected and appointed senators will make good use of their time and create public value.

Author: Laila El Baradei is a Professor of Public Administration at the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, the American University in Cairo. She is a regular contributor to PA Times Online. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Egyptianwoman

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *