BEIRUT: Negotiations over the adoption of a new parliamentary electoral system have stumbled, threating to plunge Lebanon into a fresh political crisis if no breakthrough is reached before the expiry of parliament’s mandate on June 20.
The latest round of negotiations hit a dead end after Speaker Nabih Berri’s proposal was met with opposition from President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. Berri suggested the adoption a parliamentary election law based on proportional representation in six districts as well as the establishment of a senate where each sect elects its own representatives.
FPM President and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, has clashed with Berri over the proposed number of parliamentary electoral districts and the specifics of preferential voting as well as the prerogatives of the senate and the sect of its president.
Berri, who had initially scheduled a parliament meeting for May 15 to extend the legislature term, had to adjourn it to May 29 because the meeting was expected to fall short of the quorum. Prime Minister Saad Hariri had reportedly informed Berri that the Future Movement Parliamentary bloc would boycott the session in solidarity with President Michel Aoun who staunchly opposes the extension of Parliament’s mandate.
If parliament fails to meet before May 31 when the ordinary session ends, the meeting of the legislature would require the approval of president and the prime minister who will have to sign a decree authorizing an extraordinary legislative session.
Aoun insists that the extension of Parliament’s term should be coupled with the ratification of a new parliamentary electoral system and should be limited to only a few months to prepare for polls based on a new law.
Berri, on the other hand, has warned of a vacuum in the legislative branch, where the post of speaker is reserved to a Shiite under Lebanon’s multi-confessional power sharing system. Both Berri and its ally Hezbollah have warned that a parliamentary vacuum would lead to paralyzis across all state institutions.
Pro-Hezbollah media outlets have circulated reports hinting at the possibility of the withdrawal of ministers loyal to Hezbollah and Berri’s Amal Movement from the Cabinet if Parliament’s mandate expires before an agreement over a new election law is reached.
Aoun, however, insists that the expiry of parliament’s term would require the Cabinet to hold parliamentary elections under the current law within a three-month period, a position endorsed Wednesday by Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouq, a member of Hariri’s Future Movement.
The current law, which originally dates back to 1960, was amended and adopted in 2008 as part of a comprehensive deal struck in Doha. The Doha Accord ended an 18-month political feud that had exploded on May 7, 2008, into deadly sectarian fighting, between Shiite Hezbollah gunmen and Sunni pro-Future Movement supporters, threatening to plunge Lebanon into all-out chaos.
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.
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