Critics back off as Lebanon’s parliament reaffirms March 2022 poll

MPs from President Michel Aoun’s party reiterate their objections to the first elections amid mounting political tensions.

Beirut, Lebanon – The Lebanese parliament has once again supported the holding of parliamentary elections in March next year, despite the objections of President Michel Aoun.

Thursday’s vote came about 10 days after MPs voted to amend the country’s 2017 electoral law to hold elections on March 27, instead of May 8, and also decided not to add an additional six seats for represent the great Lebanese diaspora. .

Prime Minister Najib Mikati had supported holding the elections earlier than originally scheduled to avoid campaigning during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. But the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the largest Christian bloc headed by Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, had opposed the measure, citing stormy weather and the date that coincides with Lent, during which Christians fast. .

Aoun also opposed the amendment and sent it back to parliament for reconsideration. In addition to reiterating the FPM’s comments, the president’s office said holding elections nearly two months ahead of schedule would pose logistical problems, shorten the deadline for expats to register, and prevent young people who would reach the age of 21. to vote on May 8 they will participate. .

In Thursday’s session, the vote for the early elections was approved by 77 deputies. A separate vote was also passed on the six additional seats representing the diaspora with the backing of 61 MPs. That was below the 65-vote threshold stipulated in the constitution, but President Nabih Berri let the vote pass after considering, based on attendance and current size of parliament (10 seats of MPs who resigned or died have not been replaced ), which 59 was the majority.

The FPM, which again voted against holding the polls early, later withdrew in protest. In a later statement, Bassil argued that the number of votes for diaspora seats did not constitute an absolute majority and that it was a constitutional violation.

“We are about to achieve the holding of parliamentary elections, so why do we insist on modifying the law for which we voted unanimously in 2017?” He also said. “And knowing that if we keep it as it is, we would hold the elections on time without any problems.”

The parliament session was then adjourned, without addressing critical issues on the agenda, including legislation related to capital controls and a loan from the World Bank to financially boost the country’s strained social assistance program.

Amal Hamdan, an expert consultant on electoral systems and legal frameworks, said that in addition to the reservations of Aoun and the FPM about the early holding of elections, there are other problems that voters could face due to the economic crisis.

“Voters have to go back to their places of origin to vote, and this is going to disenfranchise many Lebanese due to the dire economic situation, especially young people and women,” Hamdan told Al Jazeera.

Hamdan also predicted that an apparent lack of public confidence in the Interior Ministry holding fair elections would have an effect on turnout, regardless of the date.

“My biggest concern is that the Home Office will continue to be in charge of these elections,” Hamdan said. “Due to the confidence that the Lebanese have in the government, it is very likely that a large number of Lebanese simply do not vote, because they do not trust the Interior Ministry to hold elections with integrity.”

The election will be the first since the country’s popular uprising in late 2019, when hundreds of thousands of people began demanding a review of the political and economic status quo.

It will take place in the context of a spiraling economy, with three-quarters of the population mired in poverty and without access to their bank savings. The local currency has lost about 90 percent of its value.

Meanwhile, a continuing electricity crisis paralyzes much of public life, while alarming food inflation has forced charities and United Nations agencies to increase food assistance for millions of people.

Lebanon’s parliament consists of 128 politicians, proportioned according to the country’s handful of religious and sectarian denominations. Parliamentary mandates last four years, although the last elections in 2018 were held five years late.

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