Factbox: What's at stake in talks on Egypt's constitution

Mon Feb 7, 2011 8:12am EST

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(Reuters) - The future of the Egyptian constitution is at the center of talks between Vice President Omar Suleiman and the opposition, with special emphasis on the rules for the presidency and for elections.

The protest movement seeking to oust President Hosni Mubarak wants a radical overhaul of the document, which the ruling NDP party has amended twice in the last six years in ways that preserved its control over political life.

Here are the most contentious aspects of the constitution, along with proposals for changes:

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATURES

Under Article 76 of the existing constitution only a handful of candidates can stand in the next presidential elections, which are due by September -- one from Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) and others from small recognized parties with little weight. In theory independents could also stand but they would need endorsements from 250 elected officials, including 65 members of the lower house of parliament, where the NDP has a stranglehold.

The opposition wants to open the system up to include independent politicians able to challenge the NDP candidate -- people such as former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei and current Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa.

TERM LIMITS FOR THE PRESIDENT

The existing constitution allows the president to seek re-election indefinitely (Article 75). Mubarak is now on his fifth term. The opposition wants to limit the president to two terms in office, as in many democratic countries.

THE CONDUCT OF ELECTIONS

The opposition wants constitutional changes to deter election rigging, a widespread practice for many decades. The most important step would be to reinstate the principle of judicial supervision eliminated from the constitution in 2007.

They would also like to restructure the Presidential Election Commission, the composition of which is weighted in favor of whoever controls parliament (Article 76).

Another constitutional provision which could help reduce electoral abuses would be to abolish the principle in Article 93 that only parliament can rule on the eligibility of its members. The NDP majority has used this to ignore court rulings invalidating election results.

THE RULES FOR SETTING UP POLITICAL PARTIES

Many of the protesters, including the Muslim Brotherhood, want to abolish restrictions on setting up political parties. The existing rules, which in effect give the ruling party a veto over new parties, are mainly set out in legislation. But the constitutional ban on parties based on religion (Article 5) may need to be negotiated.

THE POWERS OF THE PRESIDENCY

After almost 60 years under three presidents with sweeping powers, many Egyptian civil society groups say they would prefer a system with more checks and balances and a less powerful presidency. It is not yet clear if the constitutional debate will have time to tackle such a radical overhaul.

POLITICAL DEADLOCK

The popular uprising against Mubarak has shown that the constitution is inadequate for dealing with crises of this kind. Constitutionally it is almost impossible to change the electoral system unless Mubarak stays in office. The opposition may request a review of these arrangements.

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