Egypt's ruling council to amend election law

Move comes after a meeting between the military chief of staff and members of political groups.

    A protester at Tahrir Square in Cairo flashes the victory sign above a sign that reads: "No Emergency Law"[Reuters]

    Egypt's military rulers have agreed to amend a controversial electoral law following threats of a poll boycott by dozens of political parties and a rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square calling for reforms.

    The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power when president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February, agreed on Saturday to amend the new law to allow political parties to field candidates in the one-third of seats that had previously been reserved for independent candidates.

    The council also said it would consider ending military trials for civilians, setting a clearer timeline for the transition to civilian rule and introducing legislation to prevent members of former President Hosni Mubarak's disbanded National Democratic Party from taking part in political life.

    SCAF, which is facing growing demands for swifter democratic reforms, said it would study the status of an emergency law condemned by rights activists for handing police sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

    The announcement came after a meeting between Sami Enan, the military chief of staff, and members of the Democratic Coalition, which groups dozens of political groups, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal Wafd party.

    Those at the meeting - and dozens more groups - had objected to Article 5, which stipulates that two-thirds of seats would be on a party list system and the rest for independents.

    "People who are party members were not allowed to run for the individual seats," Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said.

    "But in the meeting today, SCAF yielded in allowing party members to run for the other one-third of the seats as well."

    On Thursday they had threatened a vote boycott unless the controversial article was cancelled, throwing into question the credibility of Egypt's first post-Mubarak polls.

    Under the old system, hundreds of candidates ran as independents if they did not make it onto Mubarak's National Democratic Party lists, only to join the party after winning seats.

    Candidates affiliated with the ruling party used patronage or pressure to garner votes.

    Clashes at Tahrir

    Activists hope that the amendment to the law will prompt voters to elect candidates based on a party programme, circumventing candidates' personal influence.

    The political parties' meeting with Enan - who is also the number two on SCAF - came hours after scuffles and stone-throwing broke out in Tahrir Square as army troops attempted to remove protesters who wanted to stage a sit-in.

    On Tuesday, the ruling council laid out the timetable for parliamentary elections which will start on November 28 and take place over four months. A presidential election is expected to be held next year.

    The meeting came a day after thousands flocked to Tahrir to demand an end to military trials of civilians, to call for the cleansing of institutions of former regime remnants and amendment of the electoral law.

    Trouble broke out on Saturday when protesters who said they would stay in the square until their demands are met were removed by security forces and troops.

    It said several arrests were made after some protesters refused to move and began hurling stones at the security forces.

    Most groups involved in Friday's rally had said they would not take part in the sit-in.

    Around a dozen protesters were arrested on Friday after around 300 tried to head to the defence ministry but were blocked by military police.

    SCAF has repeatedly stressed its commitment to democracy but protesters have been gathering in Tahrir on an almost weekly basis to express their anger and frustration at the military's handling of the transition.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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