BEIRUT

Middle East

Egypt parties to review army vote concessions

CAIRO: Egyptian political parties meet Sunday to review concessions offered by the military in response to their demand for changes to election rules that would stop former allies of deposed President Hosni Mubarak being elected to parliament.

The ruling army council said it would amend a law banning parties from fielding candidates as independents, set a clearer timetable for a move to civilian rule and said it would consider ending military trials for civilians.

The army's concession comes a day before a deadline set by the parties, which had threatened to boycott the polls unless the army change the election law to allow them to field candidates on party lists and for seats allocated to individuals.

Mubarak's former allies, many of them local notables with enduring clout in their areas, have been spurned by most parties, leaving them with few options to get re-elected to parliament beside running as independents.

"I believe the alliance (of parties) will accept these concessions," Essam el-Erian, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), told Reuters on Sunday.

"Boycotting the elections was a threatening option to pressure the military council, not a serious one," he said. "Political parties are established to participate in elections, not to boycott them."

The army enjoyed widespread support for maintaining order after Mubarak was toppled in February and for promising to respect demands for democratic change, but Egyptians have grown more vocal in criticising its handling of the transition period.

Thousands packed central Cairo on Saturday to keep up pressure on the military to sideline Egypt's discredited old elite before elections designed to usher in civilian rule.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political force, had said on its website that it would not join the protest, but social websites said many of its young members ignored the call.

Egypt's parliamentary elections are due to begin on Nov. 28.

Laying out the timetable for the transition of power, the military council said on Saturday that the lower house of parliament would begin its work in the second half of January and the upper house, or Shura Council, on March 24.

A joint meeting of both houses would take place by the first week of April to choose the composition of a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution.

Presidential candidates would be allowed to nominate themselves a day after the new constitution is approved through a referendum, MENA added.

Elections, which under Mubarak were marred by ballot stuffing, vote buying and widespread intimidation, may be monitored by foreign non-governmental organizations and media, it said.

The military had previously said it would not permit international monitoring of the elections.

The army also said it would consider ending military trials for civilians and would study the status of an emergency law criticized by rights groups for handing the authorities sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

It has previously said the law would stay in force until next year. Six presidential hopefuls said in a joint statement on Thursday that the state of emergency legally expired on Friday.

 
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