BAABDA, Lebanon: A heated debate erupted in Cabinet Tuesday over the recent signing of a decree calling for the parliamentary elections to be held on June 9, sources at Baabda Palace said.
“A lot of ministers had their say on the signing of the electoral decree and President Michel Sleiman said the 1960 law was in a state of clinical death and remained in effect until it was time to bury it completely,” Information Minister Walid Daouq said following the government meeting at the Presidential Palace.
The Baabda sources said during the Cabinet session headed by Sleiman, ministers from Hezbollah and Berri’s Amal Movement criticized the Lebanese leader for signing the decree. Sleiman, in turn, defended his decision, saying he was merely fulfilling his constitutional duty.
Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati signed Monday a decree calling for the elections to be held on June 9 amid a stalemate among lawmakers on which voting system to adopt for the upcoming polls.
The Baabda Palace sources said during the Cabinet meeting both Sleiman and Mikati stressed that the decision to sign the electoral decree did not preclude the possibility of lawmakers agreeing on a new electoral proposal.
In a wide-ranging interview Monday night, Mikati, commenting on the signing of the decree, said: “We have a law [1960 law] that is in force and we must take the constitutional procedures. I will call for the elections to be held and will continue with the procedures to the end.”
Rejected by officials on both sides of the political divide, the 1960 law adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system.
March 8 ministers, speaking to journalists at Baabda Palace, voiced their disapproval of the decision to sign the electoral decree, with some seeing it as an attempt to keep the current 1960 law in place.
“We might as well appoint the members to Parliament,” Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami, speaking ahead of the Cabinet session, said in a sarcastic tone.
Voicing similar views, Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said the move represented an attempt to resurrect the 1960 law.
“Signing the decree is an attempt to revive the 1960 law, which was buried a long time ago,” he said.
However, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, from MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, hailed Sleiman and Mikati’s move, describing it as a normal procedure for holding the polls on time.
“Signing the decree was the right thing to do, unless some parties have the intention of postponing the elections,” Abu Faour told reporters at Baabda Palace.
Meanwhile, parliamentary sources in the March 8 alliance told The Daily Star that March 8 politicians intend to press Speaker Nabih Berri to put the Orthodox Gathering proposal, approved by Parliament’s joint committees last month, to a vote in the House.
March 8 MPs, who met in Parliament in Beirut, also slammed the signing of the decree.
“Signing the electoral decree is a black day in the history of the executive branch,” Free Patriotic Movement MP Ibrahim Kanaan told reporters in Parliament.
The Orthodox Gathering law, which projects Lebanon as a single district wherein each sect elects its own MPs under a system of proportional representation, is strongly opposed by the country’s president, prime minister, the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party and independent Christian figures.
In remarks to Al-Joumhouria daily Tuesday, Berri criticized Sleiman and Mikati on signing the decree, saying the two Lebanese leaders should have defended the Cabinet’s own electoral draft, and reiterated that the polls would not be held in the absence of a voting system that enjoys the consensus of parties.
“Let everyone agree on an electoral law and I will call for a Parliament session to endorse it the following day,” the speaker told the local newspaper.