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Cairo - President Mohamed Morsi on Thursday called parliamentary elections that will begin on April 27 and finish in late June, a four-stage vote that the Islamist leader hopes will conclude Egypt's turbulent transition to democracy.
The vote will take place in a country deeply divided between Islamist parties that have come out on top in all elections held since Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 and a more secular-minded opposition that has struggled to get organised.
The Islamist-led administration hopes the election of the new parliament will help stabilise Egypt so an economy in deep crisis can start to recover from spasms of unrest and violence that have punctuated the transition.
The new parliament will convene on July 6, according to a decree issued by Morsi just before midnight. Earlier in the day the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, adopted an electoral law as amended by the Constitutional Court, clearing the way for Morsi to set the date for the lower house election.
Under the new Egyptian constitution adopted in December, Morsi must secure parliament's approval for his choice of prime minister, giving the chamber more power than it had under Mubarak, when it was no more than a rubber stamp.
The Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, has said it will seek an outright majority in the election.
Each stage of the vote will comprise an initial two days of voting, with a further two days of voting slated for run-offs for closely contested seats. Mohamed Gadallah, a legal adviser to Morsi, had earlier said the voting would begin on April 28.
The vote would be held in phases in different regions because of a shortage of poll supervisors. The last lower house election, which was won by Islamists, lasted from late November 2011 until January the following year.
Morsi had been expected to ratify the electoral law by February 25. The lower house was dissolved last year after the court ruled the original law used to elect it was unfair.
On Monday the Constitutional Court demanded changes to five articles of the revised electoral law. The Shura Council accepted this ruling and adopted the legislation without a vote on Thursday.
“The decision of the Constitutional Court is binding and we have no right to vote on it. It must be carried out,” said Ahmed Fahmy, the Council's speaker.
The new law bars members of parliament from changing their political affiliation once elected. Under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, independents were often cajoled into joining the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which monopolised parliament and political life before the 2011 revolution.
The law also stipulates that one third of the lower house should be designated for independents and bans former members of the now defunct NDP from participating in politics for at least 10 years. - Reuters