Parliament sessions scheduled to ‘pave way for extension’
Written by Malek   

BeirutParliament.jpg

by Joseph A. Kechichian - gulf news -  Tokyo: Lebanon’s Speaker Nabih Berri scheduled for Thursday and Friday new plenary sessions to “pave the way for extending parliament’s term” after promises to introduce and agree on a new electoral law fell by the wayside. The last parliamentary elections in Lebanon, held under the universally rejected 1960 electoral law, were organised in 2009. Ever since, the legislature circumvented the process by extending its own mandate on two separate occasions, first on May 15, 2013 for 17 months, followed on November 5, 2014 by another duly approved extension for an additional 31 months (that is until June 20, 2017), ostensibly because deputies were deadlocked over the sorely needed new law.

According to an unnamed member of parliament quoted in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, “The session will pave the way for extension”, which is opposed by President Michel Aoun and his parliamentary bloc [the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)], as well as the Kataeb Party. “This means that Speaker Berri is once again taking the initiative after he had left the mission of finding an electoral law to the political forces, especially to the new cooperation channels between Aoun and Prime Minister Sa‘ad Hariri”, both of whom have failed to reach a consensus on what to do next. The speaker has said that it is necessary to issue a law extending parliament’s term before an April 15 deadline, “or else the legislative authority would slide into vacuum”, which he is unwilling to accept because failure to doing so would result in a complete collapse of one of the last remaining institutions still standing.

Though he expected an electoral miracle before April 15, Nabih Berri is aware that such an accord is nearly impossible at this late hour, given existing gaps among stakeholders. Hezbollah, one of the country’s leading parties, has repeatedly called for an electoral law that is fully based on proportional representation that will consider Lebanon to be a single district. It favoured proportionality and was willing to tolerate several large electorate districts but this was not particularly serious since just about all of the remaining parties rejected the model.

The Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) under Druze leader Walid Junblatt scorned proportional representation, warning that it would “marginalise” his minority Druze community. He affirmed and insists that the limited Druze presence, which is concentrated in the Aley and Chouf areas, will wither at the proverbial vine, something he will not accept.

Hariri’s Future Movement along with Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces, voiced reservations over proportional representation as well, proposing instead a hybrid electoral law that mixes proportionality with the winner-takes-all system that is embedded in the revised 1960 paradigm.

Irrespective of alternatives, extending parliament’s term so cavalierly upset a vast portion of the Lebanese, and infuriated the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Mar Bisharah Al Ra‘i, who lashed out from his Sunday pulpit against local elites. “We hope the reluctance from approving a new electoral law will not lead to another extension or to a situation with unknown dire consequences,” Cardinal Al Ra‘i declared, adding: “We hope the procrastination from one month to another is not a way to extend the deputies’ terms for as long as possible”. “This would be really shameful”, he concluded, though it was unclear if he was being truthful or sarcastic.

The ball was thus in Speaker Berri’s court, who repeatedly warned that failure to approve a new law and hold elections might lead to a “coup-like situation” in the country that might topple everything. As an optimist, he was holding on for a miracle.