BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri warned Sunday that the security situation in Lebanon was “very dangerous,” ruling out holding the June 9 elections on time unless there was an agreement on a new voting law.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Berri also urged the Lebanese Army and security forces to act firmly to consolidate law and order following a series of incidents that threatened to destabilize the country.
“The security situation in the country is very dangerous. ... The Arab dust, which they call the Arab Spring, is filling up Lebanon’s sky and I fear it could turn into a storm unless the political groups act strongly to bring the situation under control,” Berri said. “The priority now is for the security situation not the election law. You have to have a country for elections to take place.”
Berri added that the authorities were playing a game of cat and mouse over security incidents, “while what it requires is decisive action.”
Lebanon has been jolted recently by a wave of kidnappings for ransom, a series of deadly incidents on the Lebanese-Syrian border that left four Lebanese dead last month, in addition to mounting fears of Sunni-Shiite strife in the southern city of Sidon.
Fears of strife grew after Sidon’s Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir vowed to escalate his protests until his demand for the departure of what he claimed were armed Hezbollah members in apartments located near his mosque in Abra, east of Sidon, was met. The Army and security forces have deployed heavily in Abra and Sidon to prevent sectarian clashes.
Berri denied he is considering calling for a Parliament session to vote on an election law. He said deadlines would mean little once a consensus is found on a law.
“There will be no elections if there is no agreement on a new election law,” Berri told The Daily Star.
The speaker’s remarks came as the March 8 and March 14 parties remained poles apart over a new electoral law. They also came amid signs of tension between Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati over the approach to a new voting system.
Mikati’s readiness to move forward with the parliamentary elections based on the 1960 law has reportedly irked Berri.
Political sources hinted that the speaker might call a session of Parliament’s general assembly to vote on a new law to replace the 1960 legislation.
“As the government is committed to the constitutional deadline with regard to the elections, Parliament also has to abide by the constitutional deadline to approve a new electoral law,” one source told The Daily Star.
The source said that since the joint parliamentary committees had approved the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal last month, this proposal stood a good chance of being endorsed by Parliament’s general assembly.
Mikati said his government would call for holding the elections as scheduled on June 9.
“I will sign the decree [to hold the elections] before March 9,” Mikati said in remarks published by Al-Hayat newspaper Sunday.
As the rival factions have so failed to agree on a new electoral law, Mikati has repeatedly said that his government was committed to holding the elections, even if based on the 1960 law which is legally in force.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel had said that the voters should be called to participate in the elections before March 10.
Charbel warned Sunday that if no consensus was reached on a new electoral law, the elections would be postponed, in the latest signal of difficulties facing the holding of the polls on time.
“Matters are headed for a consensual electoral law. But if no consensus is reached, the elections will be delayed for a few months to allow for an agreement on a new law,” Charbel told The Daily Star.
Charbel ruled out the possibility of holding the elections based on the 1960 law, even if President Michel Sleiman and Mikati signed this week a decree calling on voters to participate in the upcoming polls. “The signing by President Sleiman and Prime Minister Mikati of a decree calling on voters to participate in the elections does not mean that the elections will be held on the basis of the 1960 law because this law has been unanimously rejected by all the parties,” he said. “Therefore, the people and the [rival] parties will boycott any elections based on the 1960 law.”
Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said he expected a new electoral law to be approved by Parliament’s general assembly.
“We have entered the last days for approving a new electoral law. Anyone who is betting on the 1960 law and the postponement of the elections is betting on undermining stability in Lebanon,” Adwan told MTV Sunday night.
“Stability is linked to the elections and an electoral law. Therefore, we will gear our efforts toward reaching an electoral law,” he said.
The 1960 law, which has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political divide and the Maronite Church, adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system.
The Orthodox proposal, which designates Lebanon as a single electoral district in which each sect elects its own lawmakers through a proportional representation voting system, has deepened the political split in the country.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, renewed the bloc’s call for the formation a neutral Cabinet “to reduce this huge amount of tension and cause a positive shock at all levels.”
Speaking at a rally in Sidon Saturday marking the 28th anniversary of the city’s liberation from Israeli occupation, Siniora again blasted the Orthodox proposal, saying it would cause sectarian divisions in the country:
“We want the elections to be held on time through a law that can ensure the interests of everyone and achieve freedom of choice, true and fair representation, coexistence, and equal power sharing between Christians and Muslims.”