Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk Friday signed a decree setting a date for parliamentary elections, sending the strongest signal yet about the government’s determination to hold Lebanon’s first polls in nine years on time and dispelling fears of any new extension of Parliament’s mandate. Machnouk signed the decree calling on resident Lebanese to participate in the elections Sunday, May 6, 2018, and for Lebanese expatriates who live in 40 countries to cast their votes on April 22 and April 28, his office said in a statement.
The decision was made during one of the regular meetings chaired by Machnouk and attended by senior administrative and technical employees at the Interior Ministry devoted to making preparations for parliamentary elections. Machnouk sent the decree to the premiership’s Secretariat General for Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s signature.
He also signed a rent contract for the headquarters of an 11-member committee formed by the government to supervise the elections.
The statement added that the Interior Ministry, in coordination with the United Nations Development Program, would begin next Monday equipping the headquarters with technical, logistical and library supplies.
Machnouk, whose ministry will supervise the elections, Monday launched the slogan that will be used during the voting: “2018 Lebanon Elects.”
Separately, Prime Minister Saad Hariri issued a circular Friday urging all public institutions to pay their employees according to the salary scale law, a statement from his media office said.
Law 46, which enshrined the public sector’s new salary scale, was approved by Cabinet in September and stipulated an increase in the salaries of public employees.
However, government institutions have so far failed to implement the wage hikes.
The elections, Lebanon’s first since 2009, will be held under a new vote law based on proportional representation – with Lebanon divided into 15 electoral districts – that was ratified by Parliament on June 19.
Lawmakers, citing security reasons, have extended Parliament’s term, twice in 2013 and 2014, to a full four-year mandate. In approving the new vote law to replace the controversial 1960 majoritarian system used in the last elections in 2009, lawmakers again extended Parliament’s term for 11 months to give the state time to prepare for the polls based on the new system, which involves the use of magnetic cards.
Machnouk’s decree comes as a ministerial committee tasked with implementing the new electoral law, has so far failed to make any breakthrough in its attempts to agree on a voting mechanism to govern the elections. The rival parties remain split over two issues: the adoption of the biometric or magnetic cards to be used for voting, and the voters’ preregistration in their place of residence rather than their place of birth. The new law calls for using the magnetic voting card for the first time instead of the identity card. The magnetic card is designed to allow voters to cast their ballot for their local constituency from anywhere in the country and, in future election cycles, from designated overseas polling stations.
The new law allows Lebanese nationals living overseas to vote for the first time.
The Foreign Ministry has launched the first website for eligible overseas voters to register for elections. Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said last month that over 90,000 Lebanese expatriates have registered to vote from overseas.
Under the new law, the Interior Ministry will designate overseas polling stations, the location of which will be agreed at a later time.
Although the parliamentary elections are nearly five months away, political parties are poised to begin preparations for the polls beginning next year, weighing the options of electoral alliances.
President Michel Aoun praised national unity, saying it was essential to overcome the political crisis sparked by Hariri’s resignation from Riyadh on Nov. 4.
“Lebanon has succeeded in overcoming the crisis brought on by Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation announcement from abroad as a result of national unity, which was best manifested, helping in preserving security, economic and financial stability,” Aoun said during a meeting with a delegation from the Beirut Bar Association at Baabda Palace.
During the monthlong resignation crisis, Aoun said his concern was maintaining the country’s security, financial stability and national unity.
“Our concern later shifted to calling on the international community to intervene, which had its positive results,” Aoun said, clearly referring to France’s and Egypt’s role in defusing the Lebanese crisis. “Our head remained raised high and we did not bow to any [external] pressure,” he added, according to a statement released by his media office.
Following a Cabinet agreement on Dec. 5 that called on all political components of the government to abide by the policy of dissociation from regional conflicts and noninterference in the internal affairs of Arab countries, Hariri withdrew his resignation, ending more than a month of paralysis in the executive branch of power.
Also Friday, the head of Electricite du Liban’s Workers’ Syndicate Charbel Saleh called for a public strike next week to protest delays in the implementation of the salary scale.
“All workers, from Electricite du Liban to Ogero, reject the delay in implementing the salary scale law, especially since they are paying the newly increased taxes,” Saleh said in an interview with a local radio station. He called for a strike to be held next Tuesday, urging all public institutions to take part.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet will meet next Tuesday instead of Thursday to continue studying the items on the agenda left unaddressed during this week’s session, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star. The meeting will be chaired by Hariri at the Grand Serail.
During Thursday’s session at Baabda Palace, the Cabinet, meeting to discuss a 145-item agenda, awarded licenses to a consortium of three international oil companies for offshore oil and gas exploration in Lebanon’s territorial waters, setting the stage for Lebanon to join the list of energy-producing countries.
There are some 35 items to be examined, including a plan to expand the Costa Brava and Burj Hammoud landfills and the Telecommunications Ministry’s demand to extend the contracts for the operators of Lebanon’s two mobile phone companies, Touch and Alfa.