Lebanon News

Jumblatt steps up pressure by announcing electoral list

Former Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, Patriarch Bechara Rai, Sleiman and first lady Wafaa in Bkirki where they attended Easter Sunday Mass.

BEIRUT: With no agreement in sight for a new electoral law, the Progressive Socialist Party announced Monday that it would submit the nominations of its candidates for the upcoming June polls. Jumblatt’s move received mixed support from the March 14 coalition, while parties within March 8 have yet to issue a response

“Lawmakers in the party will file their nominations this week because they insist elections must be held on time,” PSP Secretary-General Zafer Nasser told The Daily Star, adding that six PSP members including Jumblatt had completed and signed their candidacy applications.

Later Monday, Nasser announced the names of the PSP’s candidates in various districts: Ayman Choukeir in Baabda; Walid Jumblatt, Alaa Eddine Terro, Neameh Tohme and Elie Aoun in the Chouf; Akram Shehayeb in Alley and Wael Abu Faour in Rashaya and Western Bekaa.

Nasser said candidacies were submitted because the 1960 law was still valid and to stress the need to hold elections on time.

The decision by the PSP comes a day after President Michel Sleiman warned the country’s political leaders that he was opposed to extending Parliament’s term due to a lack of an agreement on a new electoral law. Sleiman spoke following Easter Sunday Mass at the seat of the Maronite Church in Bkirki.

The deadline for submitting candidacy applications is only nine days away, but only a few candidates have filed their nominations at the Interior Ministry. Many officials in the March 14 coalition have expressed fear that submitting nominations would mean approving the existing 1960 law.

Sami Nader, a professor of International Relations at Saint Joseph University, described Jumblatt’s move to name his bloc’s candidates for the upcoming polls as political maneuvering aimed at reminding rival coalitions that an electoral law to hold polls on time exists.

“What Jumblatt is trying to do is to create a fait accompli in the country and pressure everyone to accept it,” said Nader, adding that the move is also part of the ongoing negotiations to reach a compromise on a new election law.

“His [Jumblatt] move is also to counter what March 8 is doing ... March 8 is seeking to make Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri call for a parliamentary session to scrap the 1960 law and put the Orthodox Gathering proposal for a vote,” he said.

“While the Parliament might succeed in getting rid of the electoral law, the chances of adopting the Orthodox Gathering proposal are low because not all MPs from the Kataeb Party and the Lebanese Forces would vote for it despite their parties’ endorsement of the proposal,” Nader added. He also said there was heavy pressure from the international community to force the country to hold polls on time.

During a phone call Monday with Sleiman, French President Francois Hollande voiced his support for the president’s call to hold polls on time.

MinyehMP Ahmad Fatfat told the the Voice of Lebanon radio station that “the Future Movement has taken a decision not to submit its nominations before a decision is made by the March 14 coalition and an agreement is reached on a new electoral law.”

But Batroun MP Butros Harb told The Daily Star that political vacuum as a result of not holding elections on time would be worse than holding the polls on the basis on the current law.

Adopted in Doha in 2008, the 1960 law is based on elections being held according to the winner-takes-all system in 26 middle-sized districts.

While many of Harb’s allies have openly rejected holding elections based on the current law, the Batroun MP hinted that he might submit his nomination before April 10. “If we are to choose between a bad electoral law and a complete political vacuum, we would rather choose a bad electoral law,” Harb said.

He claimed that the dispute over the country’s electoral law had become a tool for political intimidation instead of reform, arguing that politicians who did not submit their nominations before the April 10 deadline would be “accepting a political vacuum.”

Separately, officials from the Lebanese Forces also ruled out submitting candidacies before April 10.

“We are committed to holding elections on time, but we cannot accept the 1960 law because it does not allow fair Christian representation in Parliament,” Bsharri MP Elie Keyrouz said.

The Kataeb Party also opposed filing nominations for candidates who wanted to run for elections under the current law. “If anyone applies, he would be approving the existing 1960 law,” said a political adviser to the party.

“Everyone knows it doesn’t matter whether you submit your nomination or not because we will not be able to hold elections on time,” added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Jumblatt has clearly come out in support of the 1960 law and the Future Movement is appeasing him,” he said.

“If they force us to choose between this existing law and the Orthodox Gathering proposal, we will definitely choose the Orthodox Gathering law.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 02, 2013, on page 3.




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