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Election law is top March 8 priority
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
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Hasan Lakkis

The parliamentary polls of June 2009 took place under an amended version of the 1960 election law. When Interior Minister Marwan Charbel recently set June 9 of next year as the date for parliamentary elections, it reflected a respect for abiding by the constitutional deadlines governing the election process. But in practical terms, will the polls take place on time, and based on which law?Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated his belief Wednesday in the importance of constitutional institutions, particularly Parliament, and said he would follow up the electoral law issue with March 14 politicians. Berri stressed the importance of tackling upcoming deadlines – he cautioned against the policy of watching and waiting, and wagering on outside developments. The speaker said it was critical to resume discussions on the election law in order to settle the matter as soon as possible.

According to senior politicians from the March 8 camp, whether the Cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati remains in office is irrelevant – the important thing is to arrive at a new election law based on domestic consensus. They said the election law resembles the Constitution, in that a simple majority in Parliament isn’t sufficient – a broad consensus is required, which will in turn produce stability.

These political sources said that if a consensus agreement on a new election law is reached, solutions for all other issues are possible.

But the sources maintained that reaching such a consensus appears to be impossible for now, practically speaking, meaning that members of the March 8 camp are consulting each other and are studying ways to respond to those who want the elections held on time, based on the current law. Some of these options include extending the mandate of Parliament for at least six months, to allow developments to take their course, in the hope that a deal will later be reached on a new law.

In recent days, leaders of the parliamentary majority have stated their preference for holding the polls on time based on a new law, while categorically rejecting the 1960 legislation. Meanwhile, politicians from March 14 have said constitutional deadlines should be respected and that they support a new election law – but don’t mind seeing the polls held on the basis of the existing legislation.

A high-ranking March 8 politician commented that the resignation of the Mikati Cabinet would not mean the formation of a new government in its place, because the priority of endorsing a new election law will remain.

If reaching an agreement on this is impossible, there will be no new alternative to the Mikati-headed Cabinet.

The politician downplayed the possibility of Mikati resigning, or the withdrawal of Walid Jumblatt’s ministers from the government, for several reasons. Mikati could be prompted to resign if he is subjected to huge pressures, to the degree that his business interests and personal wealth are threatened. The politician said that this possibility has been anticipated, and did not expect events to move in this direction.

Mikati might also act if he is subjected to pressures from Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, the politician continued. But while Gulf countries might not support Mikati, they continue to deal with him, and will not pressure him to resign.

As for a withdrawal by Jumblatt’s ministers, which could speed the Cabinet’s collapse, the March 8 politician ruled out this possibility in the coming days or weeks, even if the Druze leader is pressured by a key Gulf country. He said Jumblatt has not taken such a decision, even if a request to this effect has been made by Saudi Arabia.

The politician acknowledged that if civil strife re-erupts in Tripoli or elsewhere, or if a leading Sunni figure is assassinated, Mikati might end up resigning – but this will not be followed by a new Cabinet, unless a new election law is agreed.

The source said that March 8 will not offer any “gifts” to March 14 in terms of a Cabinet resignation; the former wants to know what will happen after the government collapses, and where the other side wants to take the country.

The source played down speculation that the Syrian regime will fall, leading to the weakening of March 8.

The regime has succeeded in keeping a “battle for Damascus” at bay, the source said, arguing that the armed opposition might be able to control various parts of Syria, but the regime remains in control of the capital and the coast. Warfare will continue and any talk of political settlements appears to be premature, the source added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 14, 2012, on page 3.
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