Prime Minister Najib Mikati kept his promise Monday, signing a decree that calls for parliamentary elections on June 9. By taking this step – alongside President Michel Sleiman – Cabinet has abided by its constitutional duties, but this does not mean elections will necessarily take place.
Article 42 of the Constitution states elections must be called 70 days before the current Parliament’s mandate ends, and parliamentary sources said the decree’s power only sets a date. The decree says nothing about which electoral law will be used to govern the polls.
The sources added that those political parties that oppose the 1960 law will still not sense danger until the Interior Ministry officially calls for candidates to announce their intention to run for elections. This is set to happen on March 20, but only if a committee to supervise the elections is formed.
There is strong objection to such a committee in the Cabinet, and this is likely to prevent Interior Minister Marwan Charbel from officially opening the door for candidacies.
The sources emphasized that Mikati’s signing of the decree was merely an administrative procedure that allowed Cabinet to avoid accusations that it breached the Constitution, and Grand Serail sources said the move did not suggest support for any particular party or law. In fact, Mikati opposes the 1960 law.
Parliament now has until March 20 to either adopt a new electoral law or postpone the elections, and postponement would overrule the decree signed Monday.
Some sources said Mikati’s act was an attempt to exert pressure on all parties to come to agreement on elections, amid divisions that dragging the country into a serious political crisis.
Although all parties have discussed the need for a consensus before the end of the month, sources noted that Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai had indicated for the first time that he would not necessarily be opposed to postponing elections for a month or two if the extension would facilitate a deal.
The sources added that Rai’s comments had come after several Western ambassadors told him that maintaining stability in the country was more important than holding elections on time.