Hezbollah’s backing of the controversial Orthodox Gathering draft electoral law is intended to delay parliamentary elections and push Lebanon into a political vacuum by June, according to sources from the March 14 opposition coalition.
Although Interior Minister Marwan Charbel has signed the decree for holding parliamentary elections in June before the term of current Parliament expires, the document also requires the signature of Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
The sources said that Mikati has so far showed no intention of signing the decree before the March 9 deadline, if elections are to take place in the first half of June.
Mikati has reiterated that elections should be held on time without delay. But if he signs the document, the government will be committing itself to holding the polls based on the existing 1960 law, which major parties across the political divide reject.
March 14 officials, who have stepped up meetings with the Progressive Socialist Party and President Michel Sleiman to reach common ground on enacting a new electoral law, believe that Hezbollah has succeeded in creating a problem in the country that will lead to a “dangerous political vacuum.”
“If Mikati doesn’t call for elections, and if the rival sides fail to reach agreement on a new election law, the Parliament’s term will expire on June 20. The country will enter a political vacuum and the Cabinet will become a caretaker government,” said a March 14 official.
In the postwar period, Lebanon has seen Cabinets enter caretaker status, but not due to the expiration of Parliament’s term.
The official said the March 14 coalition would prefer to agree on a “package deal” in which Parliament votes to extend its own term with the approval of Sleiman, if an agreement is reached on an electoral formula similar to the Fouad Butros draft law.
The Butros law is a hybrid arrangement in which some MPs would be elected based on proportional representation, with the rest selected based on the winner-takes-all system.
“But if no agreement on an electoral law is reached, extending Parliament’s term will be pointless,” the March 14 official said.
If this year’s parliamentary polls are delayed, and Parliament’s term expires without a resolution, the chances of holding a presidential election in 2014 will recede, according to the March 14 officials.
Sleiman was elected following a compromise reached between the March 14 and March 8 coalitions in Doha after several weeks of bloody civil strife in 2008.
According to the sources, such a fait accompli would allow Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah to renew his call for a “constituent assembly” to re-organize Lebanon’s polity.
“After this political vacuum is enforced, Hezbollah will put its conditions on the table and retain its arms at the same time,” the source said.