DUBAI, (Reuters) – Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said on Monday his country would hold a referendum next summer on constitutional changes that should pave the way for ending a quarter century of emergency law within 18 months.
Nazif said work was under way to amend the constitution to change the power system, encourage political parties and replace an emergency law in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 with anti-terrorism legislation.
“Our constitutional change will be presented to parliament this year, during this parliamentary session,” Nazif told Reuters on the sidelines of the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai. “The sequence is like this: we have to change the constitution, which will take probably the next six to nine months… Then we have to put in a new law, the anti-terror law, which will probably happen within a year … then we will be able to lift the emergency … 18 months hopefully,” he said. “The referendum on the change of constitution will be some time in early summer.”
The newspaper of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) said last week that draft amendments to the constitution would relax the rules for political parties to contest the presidency and impose a limit of two seven-year presidential terms.
But the proposed amendments would still make it impossible under present conditions for the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group in Egypt, to field a presidential candidate.
Under the current constitution, a party must hold 5 percent of the elected seats in each of the two houses of parliament to qualify to nominatre a candidate.
The NDP newspaper Al Watany Al Youm said the conditions would be changed so that any party with more than one member in either house could field a presidential candidate.
The weekly said the other constitutional provisions on presidential elections would not change.
That would include the requirement that independents such as a Muslim Brotherhood candidate would need endorsement from 25 elected members of the upper house and 140 members of local councils, conditions which would be difficult to meet.
The Egyptian authorities are against granting the Brotherhood recognition as a political party, on the grounds that the constitution bans parties based on religion.
Nazif did not give the details of the proposed amendments but said they would change the power structure. “We implemented some constitutional amendments that allowed for the first time the election of a president from among several candidates,” he told the conference, referring to the amendments made at short notice last year in time for presidential elections won easily by President Hosni Mubarak.
Opposition groups and analysts say the strict rules for presidential candidates are meant to leave open the possibility that the ruling party will install Mubarak’s 42-year-old son Gamal as successor without a significant challenger.
Gamal has said he has no presidential plans and his father has said Egypt does not have a hereditary system.