Egyptians have finally begun to learn the rules that will govern their first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections, scheduled to begin on November 28. The election law announced by the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) is remarkably complicated, generating great confusion both inside and outside of Egypt. Those poorly understood rules will play an important role in shaping the results — and are already pushing the Egyptian party scene into a polarized competition between Islamist and secular blocs, with independents somewhere in the middle with no clear political or economic agenda.
The electoral system that the SCAF has chosen for the forthcoming election is a departure from Egypt’s historical practice. Egyptian elections have typically been governed by a majoritarian system in smaller constituencies (222 in total). Such a system traditionally made voting a choice between individual candidates rather than parties’ programs, which put a premium on coming from a strong local tribe or from a wealthy background. The small size of constituencies made this possible because it increased the electoral weight of extended families and tribes, especially in rural constituencies.
The new law creates a mixed system, which reserves one-third of the lower house’s 498 seats to be contested by a majoritarian system in 83 two-member constituencies (with each constituency more than double the size of the previous ones). The remaining two-thirds (332 seats) will be contested according to a Proportional Representation (PR) system in larger constituencies where the district magnitude ranges between 4 and 12 seats. The districts for the two systems are not identical, which means that voters will be casting votes and candidates will be campaigning in potentially radically different districts.