As vote nears, Constituent Assembly may have quorum problem

As members of the Constituent Assembly pull out in protest, the body may struggle to come up with the quorum needed to take a valid vote on the draft constitution Thursday.

The assembly is expected to vote on the final draft before submitting it to the president this weekend and later putting it to public referendum. The recent rush to finish the charter comes in the midst of a controversial declaration issued last week by President Mohamed Morsy, through which he claimed sweeping powers, including the immunization of the Islamist-dominated assembly from judicial dissolution.

According to the assembly's bylaws, the quorum requirement for discussion sessions is 51 members, a threshold which increases to 67 members in voting sessions. Since several of the members who have withdrawn have not filed written resignations, and some have only announced their withdrawals through the press, the specific number of resigned members has yet to be determined.

Media reports estimate 22 of the 100 assembly members have stepped down in protest so far. The assembly has another 50 reserve members, of whom 33 remain after a series of withdrawals.

If the assembly cannot convince members to return by Thursday or Friday at the latest, when it is scheduled to wrap up the draft, it will likely have to draw on reserve members.

According to Atef al-Banna, professor of constitutional law and a member of the assembly, both scenarios are currently being pursued, in a possible indication there are not enough members to form a quorum. According to him, members of the assembly are negotiating with some of the figures who withdrew to talk them into rejoining. Meanwhile, the remaining 33 reserve members will be summoned to fill in for those who choose to stay away.

Nine reserve members had previously been summoned after some members withdrew and others failed to show up when the assembly first started its work.

Meanwhile, Manal al-Teeby, a former member of the assembly, said calling reserve members to fill in for candidates who have withdrawn may not follow the proper legal procedures, since most of those who walked out have not submitted official written resignations but only reported their withdrawal to the media. In addition, an absent member may only be considered to have withdrawn when he or she has failed to show up for five consecutive sessions, according to the bylaws, which  is not the case with several members, she said.

Banna said members who have withdrawn have failed to justify the move and he accused them of wilfully hampering the operation of the assembly, particularly since some withdrew only to return later, without justifying either decision.


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