BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Tuesday signaled his support for the upcoming parliamentary elections to be held under the disputed 1960 majoritarian law if no agreement was reached on a new voting system before the expiry of the legislature’s term next month. Aoun’s stance is likely to set the stage for holding parliamentary elections in September if no agreement on a new law before June 20, thus averting a potential vacuum in the legislature or a new extension of the body’s four-year term, which was extended for another full term in 2013 and 2014 combined.
Aoun had maintained three Nos: No to an extension of Parliament’s term, No to a parliamentary vacuum, and No to a return to the 1960 law used in the last elections in 2009.
The president’s about-face seems to have been motivated by dwindling chances of the rival factions being able to reach agreement on a new vote law before Parliament’s mandate expires on June 20.
Aoun’s stance comes as negotiations over a new electoral law have sunk into a limbo after a series of intensive meetings by the country’s main political parties failed to make any breakthrough in the monthslong deadlock, heightening fears of either a new extension of Parliament’s term, or returning to the 1960 system which all the parties have vowed to oppose, at least in public.
However, Aoun dispelled fears of a legislative void if no agreement was reached on a new electoral law before the expiry of Parliament’s term, saying the people would be invited to vote within three months under the current valid 1960 law.
“I don’t want the 1960 law. But if we don’t reach a solution and an agreement on a new [electoral] law, should I leave the republic in chaos?” Aoun said during a meeting with a delegation from the Press Club at Baabda Palace.
“There is a solution and it was possible to implement it had there been an agreement. But so far, a new [vote] law has not been endorsed. Let the people vote for what they want.”
He was referring to a raft of hybrid, proportional and qualification vote law proposals that have been floated by political rivals in the past few weeks in an attempt to end the standoff over what voting system to adopt for the upcoming elections.
Asked what will happen if Parliament’s term ends on June 20 and the country is without an agreement on a new electoral law, Aoun said: “We must see what the Constitution stipulates and work accordingly. The Constitution states that the people should be called to vote within a 90-day deadline on the basis of the law in force .”He criticized the rival factions for thwarting proposals for a new electoral law by “sharing roles to achieve this goal.”
“When one says yes, the other says no,” Aoun said, adding that that all the parties have agreed to his swearing-in speech and the government’s policy statement concerning the need to endorse a new vote legislation.
Aoun denied dropping his support for a vote law based on complete proportionality as proposed by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. He said that parity between Muslims and Christians as dictated by the Constitution is not respected.
Speaker Nabih Berri was asked about the fate of a Parliament session scheduled on May 29 to extend the legislature’s term for one year, told visitors at his Ain al-Tineh residence: “From now until the date of the session, anything could happen. Big silence is better than futile screaming. When we reach a good solution [to the vote law problem], we will talk.”
Asked what Lebanon should do amid the fast-moving developments in the region, a clear allusion to U.S. President Donald Trump’s visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel during which he railed against Iran and Hezbollah, blaming them for destabilizing the region, Berri said: “Let’s set our internal house in order first. This is must be done in all cases.”
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that parliamentary elections would be held before the end of the year.
He spoke during a meeting with United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag with whom he discussed efforts to agree on a new electoral law. “The political path will be clarified before May 29 after [the parties’] various positions have been outlined,” Machnouk said.
For her part, Kaag underlined the need for parliamentary elections to be held in view of their political, economic and developmental significance.
Lebanon does not only serve as a model of coexistence and tolerance, but also as a model of democracy and plurality, Kaag said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil warned that the political scene would change after June 20 if no new electoral law was endorsed. He also called on the Cabinet to vote on various electoral law proposals as way of ending the deadlock.
Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, rejected accusations that his party was seeking to hold the elections under the 1960 law and vowed to prevent a parliamentary void.
“We will prevent a vacuum. The first means to do so is by endorsing a new electoral law,” Bassil told a news conference after chairing the weekly meeting of the FPM’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc in Rabieh, north of Beirut.
“We are forced to prevent a vacuum by going to a vote. No one can stop us from voting in constitutional institutions. If anyone prevents us from voting in constitutional institutions, then we have a popular voting.”
Bassil, whose controversial sectarian-based two-stage “qualification” vote law proposal has drawn opposition from Berri, MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc and the Lebanese Forces, said no one can impose on the FPM any electoral law after his several vote proposals have been rejected.
“We will not accept the bad [vote] options. We stress that the entire political scene after June 20 will be different if we are barred from endorsing a new electoral law,” he said.