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Cabinet agrees poll decree, no vote expected

From left, Ministers Boutros Harb, Mohammad Machnouk and Rashid Derbas take the elevator as they arrive to attend a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The Cabinet signed a decree Tuesday calling on the electorate to vote in parliamentary elections scheduled for November, but the move is not expected to boost the chances of holding the polls on time.

The Cabinet’s unanimous decision was quickly praised by Speaker Nabih Berri as the “first step” toward holding parliamentary elections.

However, the Cabinet move, which came 18 hours after the expiry of the legal deadline to publish the decree, does not necessary mean that parliamentary polls will be held on time, given warnings by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and other officials that security conditions are not favorable for holding the elections.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam proposed the decree calling on the electorate to participate in the elections. The decree was not on the Cabinet agenda, but there was no debate and all ministers agreed to sign it.

“The signing of the decree 18 hours after the deadline to issue it is not considered as a legal violation and does not need a draft law from Parliament to extend the deadline,” a ministerial source said.

“The Cabinet’s approval to call the electorate without a debate means that the government has done its legal duty and now it is up to Parliament to decide if it wants to extend its mandate technically, for a short period or for two years and seven months, as proposed by MP Nicolas Fattoush,” the source said.

During the Cabinet session, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil telephoned Berri to inform him of the signing of the decree.“This decree is the first step on the road to parliamentary elections. It indicates that I am right in my stance in rejecting the extension of Parliament’s term,” Berri was quoted by visitors as saying.

He lamented that Parliament, whose term was extended by 17 months last year, had failed to approve a new electoral law and elect a new president.

“I am not thinking of my personal interests to stay as Parliament speaker. I have been for years the dean of parliamentary speakers in the world. But what is the value of extending the mandate of a Parliament that does not meet to elect a president and does not meet to legislate?” Berri asked.

The decree calling on the electorate to vote should have been published before Aug. 18, as constitutionally it must be published within 90 days of the parliamentary polls scheduled for Nov. 16.

Although he sent the decree to the Cabinet for approval earlier this month, Machnouk had said last week that security agencies had advised against holding the parliamentary elections, a move that set the stage for a possible extension of Parliament’s mandate, which expires on Nov. 20. Machnouk, who was on a private trip abroad, did not attend Tuesday’s session.

The Cabinet move comes as attempts to extend Parliament’s term moved into high gear last week, after Fattoush submitted a draft proposal for the extension of the legislative body’s term by two years and seven months.

In discussing other matters, the Cabinet postponed decisions on the issues of water supplies and waste disposal, including the renewal of the contract of Sukleen, the company responsible for the collection of garbage from the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, which expires at the end of this month.

The Cabinet approved the building of 13 colleges and some institutes, as well as giving a license to the building of a university college for non-violence and human rights, while postponing discussion on licenses for other private universities, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said after the five-hour meeting.

Ministerial sources said the Cabinet had approved licenses for 13 colleges out of 30 requests and approved a license for one private university out of requests for six universities.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 20, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

The Cabinet signed a decree Tuesday calling on the electorate to vote in parliamentary elections scheduled for November, but the move is not expected to boost the chances of holding the polls on time.

However, the Cabinet move, which came 18 hours after the expiry of the legal deadline to publish the decree, does not necessary mean that parliamentary polls will be held on time, given warnings by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and other officials that security conditions are not favorable for holding the elections.

The decree calling on the electorate to vote should have been published before Aug. 18, as constitutionally it must be published within 90 days of the parliamentary polls scheduled for Nov. 16 .

Although he sent the decree to the Cabinet for approval earlier this month, Machnouk had said last week that security agencies had advised against holding the parliamentary elections, a move that set the stage for a possible extension of Parliament's mandate, which expires on Nov. 20 .


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