Activists gear up for protests amid political paralysis

by Annahar Staff

29 July 2016 | 17:19

  • by Annahar Staff
  • Last update: 29 July 2016 | 17:19

In this photo taken Sunday, March 13, 2016, activists protest the Cabinet’s failure to manage the waste crisis. (Annahar Photo)

BEIRUT: A number of political activists and civil society groups are gearing up for a protest in downtown Beirut to demand the adoption of a parliamentary electoral system based on proportional representation.

Protesters will gather in Barbir area Saturday noon before heading to Nejmeh Square, home to Lebanon's parliament, a day before the country's top politicians meet for a new round of National Dialogue at Speaker Nabih Berri's residence.

Berri had scheduled three consecutive rounds of National Dialogue August 2, 3 and 4 in a bid to broker a comprehensive political settlement that would pave the way for the election of a president, the ratification of a new electoral law and the formation of a new cabinet.

The package deal, as sought by Berri, however, faces opposition from factions within the Future Movement who argue that a comprehensive political settlement is a masked attempt to force a constitutional convention aimed at abolishing the Taif Accord.

The Future Movement insists that the election of a president should precede parliamentary elections or the ratification of a new electoral system.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since the end of former President Michel Sleiman's term in 2014. Sleiman was elected president as part of the Doha Accord in 2008. The Qatari-sponsored agreement backed by the sponsors of Lebanon's rival camps, regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia, ended an 18-month political feud that had exploded May 7 into deadly sectarian fighting between Shiite Hezbollah and Sunni pro-Future Movement supporters, threatening to plunge Lebanon into all-out chaos.

The deal reached in Doha led to the formation of a national unity cabinet and the adoption of the current electoral law--which originally dates back to 1960--in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

The failure of major political factions to reach an agreement over a new parliamentary electoral system amid a nearly two-year long presidential vacuum has fueled tensions once again between the country's rival parties.

In May, Berri proposed early parliamentary elections provided that the country's leading political parties explicitly agree to secure the quorum for a presidential vote that would follow legislative polls regardless of their outcome.

If rival parties fail to reach such agreement, Berri says legislative elections scheduled for 2017 would still take place based on the current electoral law.

The government has already adjourned parliamentary elections twice, citing security concerns linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria. In 2013, lawmakers voted to extend parliament's term by 17 months and then voted again in 2014 to extend their tenure an additional two years and seven months.

The extension of parliament's term and a recent garbage crisis have prompted civil society groups and political activists to take to the streets on several occasions over the past two years to demand change.

The "We Want Accountability" movement will spearhead a protest Saturday to call for the adoption of an electoral system based on proportional representation, a key demand by the Free Patriotic Movement and its ally Hezbollah. 

On the other hand, the Future Movement, along with the Lebanese Forces and MP Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist party, have proposed the ratification of a new electoral law that combines between proportional representation and a winner-takes-all system.


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