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Panel urges competitive elections


Egyptians celebrating after president Hosni Mubarak's departure (AP)

Egyptians celebrating after president Hosni Mubarak's departure (AP)

Egyptians celebrating after president Hosni Mubarak's departure (AP)

A constitutional reform panel has recommended opening Egypt's presidential elections to competition and imposing a two-term limit on future presidents - a dramatic shift from a system that allowed the ousted Hosni Mubarak to rule for three decades.

The changes are among 10 proposed constitutional amendments that are to be put to a popular referendum later this year.

The proposals appeared to address many of the demands of the reform movement that help lead the 18-day popular uprising that forced Mr Mubarak to step down on February 11.

But some Egyptians worry that the proposed changes do not go far enough to ensure a transition to democratic rule, and could allow the entrenched old guard to maintain its grip on power.

The most important of the eight-member panel's proposals would greatly loosen restrictions on who could run for president, opening the field to independents and candidates from small opposition parties.

That marks a drastic change from the previous system that gave Mr Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party a stranglehold on who could run.

"We were denied the right to have candidates before. Now they opened the door for whoever wants to run," said pro-reform Judge Ahmed Mekky. "This is a step forward."

A candidate would be allowed to run by doing one of three things: collecting 30,000 signatures from 15 of Egypt's 29 provinces; receiving the approval of at least 30 members of the elected parliament; or representing a party with at least one lawmaker in parliament.

The panel also recommended full judicial supervision of the electoral process, which would address regular criticism that the government routinely rigged past elections to ensure Mr Mubarak's party retained its hold on power.

On Egypt's widely criticised emergency laws, which have been in place for 30 years and grant police sweeping powers of arrest, the panel proposed limiting their use to a six-month period with the approval of an elected parliament. Extending their use beyond that should be put to a public referendum, it said.