CAIRO An Egyptian court has ruled that the voting system that elected the new parliament was unconstitutional, creating a fresh source of uncertainty as Egypt tries to set up a governing system a year after Hosni Mubarak was toppled.
Judge Magdy el-Agaty of the High Administrative Court said the elaborate system that apportioned seats among individuals and political parties violated the constitution. He referred parts of the election law to the Supreme Constitutional Court for a final judgement.
It was not immediately clear if the ruling could eventually lead to courts overturning the results of the elections, which were held over three stages from late November to January.
Egyptian politicians speculated that the ruling could hold up the functioning of parliament, which is supposed to name a council to draw up a new constitution.
Egypt has been ruled by the military since Mubarak stepped down. The new parliament is dominated by Islamist parties and also contains a sizable number of liberals. It's primary task is to pick a 100-member council to draw up a constitution to pave the way for presidential elections.
The parliamentary election, hailed as Egypt's freest vote in decades, was held under an elaborate system under which a third of seats were allocated to individuals and two thirds to political parties.
Agaty said this ratio violated the constitution and half of seats should have been reserved for individuals. He also said parties should not have been permitted to field candidates for the seats reserved for individuals.
"The court views that allowing political parties to run for independent seats violates the principles of constitutional equality and has doubtful constitutionality," Agaty said in the ruling, which was handed down Monday and released Tuesday.
Confusion over the election law lasted until the eve of the vote, which took place over a staggered three-stages. Parties haggled to guarantee they could field candidates for the seats reserved for individuals in the 498-member assembly.
Lawyer Gamal Eid told Reuters the ruling reflected ambiguity in Egyptian law. The ruling council has suspended use of the text of the Mubarak-era constitution, but has also occasionally relied on its wording for decisions.
"The entire situation is a reflection of the complicated legal situation. You are in some ways following the old constitution and in others following an interim text," he said.
"Anyone who tells you the legal situation is clear is lying. No one is doubting the fairness of the vote, but what is being raised now is the procedures which it followed," he added.
Egyptian politicians and officials were weighing the impact of the ruling. Mohamed El Baradei, former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief who has pulled out of the presidential race in objection to how the army council has managed the transition, wrote on twitter: "How can this parliament choose a committee for the constitution before hearing the ruling from the court?"
Under Mubarak, the Supreme Constitutional Court used similar arguments to rule election laws illegal in 1987 and 1990, forcing the dissolution of parliament, overhauls of the electoral system and early elections.
Eid said he expected the Supreme Constitutional Court to create a new constitutional principle that would effectively approve the voting process, in light of the circumstances of the election.
"There is no way to tell, but I expect the court to allow parliament to continue working and in the process set in stone a new constitutional principle," he said.
(Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed and Omar Fahmy; Editing by Peter Graff)