BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman warned Thursday that Lebanon faced a bigger threat to its security if the June 9 elections were not held on time and Parliament’s mandate was extended.
Sleiman’s warning came as the international community stressed that holding the elections on time was essential for Lebanon’s stability.
Also Thursday, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, voiced hope that a hybrid vote law, currently being thrashed out by the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party, would help break the monthslong deadlock over a new electoral system, and subsequently pave the way for the polls to be held on time.
Amid growing fears that the elections might be postponed given the rival factions’ failure to agree on a new electoral law, Sleiman sounded optimistic that the polls would be held on time, but not under the 1960 law, which he said was “dead.”
“The elections will be held by 95 percent, but not on the basis of the 1960 law. I am not wagering on anything. There is a law and a constitution,” Sleiman told a delegation from the Journalists’ Union.
He said security incidents should not be allowed to prevent the elections from being held. “But if the elections were not held and [Parliament’s mandate] was extended, the security danger would be bigger,” Sleiman said.
Sleiman has on several occasions in the past few months declared that he is against the extension of his six-year term in office, which expires in 2014. He has also pledged not to sign a decree extending Parliament’s four-year mandate, which expires on June 20.
The president defended his position in the face of a campaign launched by March 8 MPs for the signing of a decree calling for elections to be held on time. Lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement have described Sleiman’s move as “a black day” in the history of the executive branch.
“Is it logical [that a day on which] someone carried out his duties be [described] as a black day? The officials concerned with this issue [elections] do not have a choice on whether or not to sign. This [signing of the decree] must happen,” Sleiman said.
He denied reports that Speaker Nabih Berri was annoyed with the electoral decree signed by him and Prime Minister Najib Mikati calling on voters to participate in the elections.
Sleiman rejected the argument, held by a number of March 8 MPs, that the electoral decree was aimed at holding the polls based on the 1960 law. “The 1960 law is dead and has not been buried. We are waiting for it to be buried legally in Parliament. An [electoral] law can be abolished only with a new law.”
The 1960 law, which has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political divide, including the Maronite Church, adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system. In another statement, Sleiman called for a modern electoral law that can ensure true representation of all segments of Lebanese society based on the Cabinet’s draft law that has been sent to Parliament.
Both Berri and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel have ruled out holding the elections on time unless there is consensus on a new voting law.
Meanwhile, U.N Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly said the international community viewed the elections as very important for the country’s stability. He met with Berri to discuss ongoing efforts to reach consensus on a new electoral law.
“We discussed progress in respect of the parliamentary elections. I warmly welcomed the efforts the speaker has made to promote consensus with regard to the electoral law,” Plumbly told reporters after meeting Berri at Ain al-Tineh. “This is very much a Lebanese process, but the international community is keenly interested in its success. Time is short. But the elections are crucially important for stability.”
He said he told Berri of the United Nations’ strong support for his continuing efforts to reach consensus on a new electoral law, “and our hope that consensus with regard to the law will be achieved without delay.”
“Finally I should mention that in his 1701 report the [U.N.] secretary-general expressed the hope that arrangements agreed for the upcoming elections would include measures to enhance the representation of women in the next Parliament,” he said.
Also Thursday, Siniora said the Future Movement and the PSP were still working on a hybrid law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system in an attempt to break the deadlock over a voting system.
“The [vote] plan has not ripened yet. We’re still putting the final touches to it. Hopefully, it will be announced next week,” he told The Daily Star. Asked whether the Future-PSP plan would break the deadlock, he said: “We hope so.”
Siniora refused to give details of the vote plan before it had been fully drafted. However, political sources said the plan called for 70 lawmakers to be elected in a winner-takes-all system and 58 MPs through proportional representation. It also called for dividing the country into 26 districts in a majority system and nine governorates through proportional representation.
Siniora reiterated the Future bloc’s demand for the formation of a neutral Cabinet to oversee the elections. He said the Future Movement was consulting with its March 14 allies, notably the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party, on the hybrid vote plan.
Siniora met with LF leader Samir Geagea at the latter’s residence in Maarab Wednesday night to brief him on the Future-PSP contacts on the hybrid plan. The meeting was attended by Future MP Ahmad Fatfat and LF MPs George Adwan and Elie Keyrouz.
“The participants affirmed the necessity of reaching a new electoral law on which all parliamentary blocs agree,” said a statement released by Geagea’s office. “They stressed the need to hold the parliamentary elections on its legal and constitutional time. They concluded that the best formula for the time being is a hybrid law formula,” it added.