Lebanon News

MPs say elections may move to May

Senior politicians on Tuesday raised the possibility of moving up parliamentary elections by two months to June, in order to head off negative political repercussions of an Israeli withdrawal from the south in July.

Although Speaker Nabih Berri dismissed the idea, Tripoli MP Omar Karami was quoted as saying that “I have confirmed information, which I obtained four days ago, that there is a move toward advancing the election date to June.”

Karami, who was speaking to reporters at his Beirut home, attributed the possibility to “developments accompanying the Israeli withdrawal from the south in July.”

Karami added that the incoming Parliament “will be totally different than the present one, and will be the one that elects the next president of the republic.”

A source close to Prime Minister Salim Hoss said the premier was “aware that this option was being floated by MPs” but stressed that he was not behind the move.

Interior Minister Michel Murr, according to a source familiar with the issue, is preparing a draft law to amend the election law and move election day forward ­ the signatures of 10 MPs are required for the House to study the legislation.

A parliamentary session is currently scheduled for the beginning of May.

“If Parliament sees that moving up the election date is appropriate, this will require amending the law, and then we will be able to call for elections,” Murr said after meeting Berri at Nijmeh Square.

Murr responded to a question about the possibility of pushing up the elections by saying that “from the technical standpoint, we are ready to hold elections at any time.”

“The final decision on this matter belongs to Parliament,” he was quoted as saying during meetings with 71 MPs at his office in Sanayeh.

Berri reportedly said that “there’s no need for early elections,” adding that they would take place “whether there is occupation or a withdrawal.”

Amending the election law would likely involve several articles, starting with Article 7, which stipulates that the polls must be held during a 60-day period preceding the end of Parliament’s mandate in October. Murr had tentatively scheduled elections to begin after Aug 15, over a period of four Sundays.

Articles 28 and 30 prevent a range of people ­ members of the armed forces, security bodies and Customs authority, as well as all judges, top civil servants, and members of boards of directors of public institutions ­ from running unless they have resigned six months before the elections.

Since a number of officers and civil servants resigned before mid-February, these articles would also have to be changed to ensure equal access to candidacy.

Sources close to Murr said that if the elections were moved up, two key items connected to fairness might be dropped.

They said moving the elections forward would mean doing away with Article 49’s stipulation that only a special electoral card may be used.

Also, Article 54 stipulates that the Interior Ministry provide a special overhead projector in polling stations to allow candidates’ delegates to view each ballot. This arrangement might also be done away with, due to insufficient preparation time.

Delegates are normally forced to crowd behind polling station officials to view ballots, a process that has led to complaints about the lack of uniform access.

As for the political repercussions of holding the polls after an Israeli withdrawal, the positions of Amal and Hizbullah could be dramatically affected if the south’s voters are allowed to vote in separate districts.

Article 71 says that due to “exceptional circumstances in some areas of the south,” the south and Nabatieh governorates are merged for the 2000 round.

The two groups have announced their alliance in principle for 2000, an agreement based on obtaining a satisfactory share of seats in, among other places, the merged South Lebanon-Nabatieh district.

But an Israeli withdrawal would remove the “exceptional circumstances” and put pressure on the authorities to split the two districts, upsetting the delicate electoral alliance.

l Omar Karami also announced that he was in the process of “annulling a Maronite marriage to Suleiman Franjieh,” adding that “divorce proceedings were going ahead as of Tuesday.”

Efforts to bring Karami and Franjieh, the minister of agriculture and Zghorta MP, together in time for the elections have yet to produce results. The two joined forces in the 1992 and 1996 rounds.





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