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Likely scenarios: 1960 vote law or postponement
Rival political leaders gather at the National Dialogue table at Baabda Palace, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
Rival political leaders gather at the National Dialogue table at Baabda Palace, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: With six months until parliamentary elections and the March 14 coalition still boycotting Parliament and National Dialogue, there are two possible options for the polls: either elections will be held according to the 1960 law that governed the 2009 voting, or they will be postponed.

It seems unlikely that parties will be able to discuss a new electoral law, given that the opposition is boycotting all parliamentary sessions that Cabinet members attend.

This has become even clearer after opposition MPs of Armenian heritage recently failed to convince their colleagues to attend a Tuesday Parliament session where Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan was set to speak.

Speaker Nabih Berri cancelled the session and instead hosted a Tuesday lunch in honor of Sargsyan, which all parties attended.

Some have said the March 14 boycott was engineered by Gulf states, while others are of the opinion that March 8’s choices are made by Iran.

Progressive Socialist party Walid Jumblatt weighed in on these possibilities in a Monday news conference, saying he was opposed to Arab states fighting Iran using the Lebanese political system, just as he was against any use by Iran of Hezbollah to improve its status in negotiations about its nuclear program.

Some majority MPs from Christian parties believe that when it becomes clear that a new Cabinet will not be formed and Parliament will not endorse a new electoral law, elections might be held – under international pressure – on time based on a slightly amended 1960 law. These amendments would concern the division of Beirut’s electoral districts and the number of seats in Tripoli.

These MPs, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that voting on schedule would also require changing a law that mandates senior officials – including mayors, the Central Bank governor and the army commander – to resign six months before polls if they wish to run.

If there is a last-minute deal to hold elections, these MPs believe that lawmakers’ terms would have to be extended by a month to allow them to prepare for the polls. This was the case in 2005.

They added that this extension would not require a parliamentary vote, because there is an approximately one month time lag between elections and the assumption of office.

However, opposition MPs said voting based on the 1960 system is not currently up for discussion, and added that any amendments to the law would have to be decided before any kind of term extension is agreed upon.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai recently had a change of heart about the elections. Before his weekend trip to Rome he had opposed polls based on the 1960 law. However, upon his return Rai said he would rather voting take place based on the 1960 law than not at all.

Further, Jumblatt has called for such elections, and it is possible that the Future Movement will back him. Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun has not publically rejected the idea, voicing confidence that his party will win under any system.

As for Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, they will accede to any law Christian groups agree on. Hezbollah in particular will accept any draft law approved by its ally, the FPM.

There remains the option of postponement, although publically all parties have rejected a renewal of Parliament’s term and insisted on respecting constitutional deadlines.

Some prominent politicians have said that there are those quietly promoting a renewal of MPs’ terms, as well as that of Cabinet, the president and the army commander. In the case of the president and Parliament, this would require a constitutional amendment and parliamentary approval.

There are those that believe extending the terms favors the March 8 majority. They consider it illogical that as the region turns against the majority’s ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanon should retain its status quo.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 28, 2012, on page 3.
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