Joseph A. Kechichian

Senior Writer

Beirut: Just a day after the hoopla over a potential new electoral law — which may be announced next Wednesday when the Cabinet holds a regular meeting — experts claim that the parliamentary elections will probably occur in Spring 2018.

According to the Minister of the Interior, Nouhad Al Machnouk, preparations to hold the polls based on the much-touted proportional representation would take six to seven months of preparation, as he handed over to Speaker Nabih Berri a detailed working plan prepared by his ministry in cooperation with the United Nations.

Despite the initial agreement reached by the country’s top leaders during Thursday’s iftar at Baabda Palace on a proportional vote law dividing Lebanon into 15 districts, fresh reports emerged on Friday that a final settlement is overly optimistic. Press reports quoted anonymous deputies who claimed that many details could still block the Baabda Agreement as divergences remained on the percentage of the national threshold for candidates to win seats in any particular district, “which is reported to be 10 per cent”. Some insist on 20 per cent, which redefines Byzantine rules practised in a society that prides itself on complex, even intractable options.

In addition to this critical feature, there is also a disagreement on the preferential vote on a nonsectarian basis, which has not yet gained the consent of all parties. The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), for example, insists on the right of Christians to chose their own representatives, whereas Speaker Berri and the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt remain adamant to eliminate this clause.

While the FPM and the Lebanese Forces assume that the agreement on the new vote law should be accompanied by a political declaration on equality between Muslims and Christians in Parliament alongside the establishment of a Senate, the Speaker declared after the Baabda iftar that he had suggested the formation of a ministerial committee to assess the technical details of the law only, without pledging himself to any other demands.

Inasmuch as Nabih Berri rejected this vital matter, it was clear that he forced the President’s hand to issue a decree that opened an extraordinary parliament session from June 7 to June 20, which means that his ministerial committee manoeuvre was not an ideal step. To be sure, Aoun’s decision avoided a constitutional crisis, but it also highlighted his weakened position vis-a-vis the Speaker’s.

Assuming that the proposed ministerial committee is formed and, miraculously, got rid of the various pits in the way of the agreement on a new electoral law, even the necessary technical extension of Parliament’s term remains contentious though now inevitable. There are disputes over the length of the technical extension, with some parties demanding a year, while the FPM will only accept six months or less.

Lebanon risks sliding into a legislative vacuum if a settlement is not reached by June 20, when Parliament’s twice-extended mandates (last elected on June 7, 2009, with a first 17 months extension on May 15, 2013, followed by an additional 31 months extension on 5 November 5, 2014), expires. Without a final accord, Beirut would be obligated to hold the upcoming parliamentary elections under the controversial 1960 majoritarian system or, in the worst case scenario, of not having elections at all.