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Lebanon takes steps toward long overdue elections

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, right, President Michel Aoun, second from right, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, second from left and Defense Minister Yacoub Sarraf salute as Lebanese army soldiers carry coffins of 10 Lebanese soldiers who were abducted in 2014 and later killed by Islamic State militants at the Lebanese Defense Ministry, in Yarzeh, near Beirut, Lebanon, in this Sept. 8, 2017 photo. (AP)
BEIRUT: The speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, put forward an urgent draft law on Monday to end Parliament’s term on Dec. 31 this year, instead of May 2018.
That would mean parliamentary elections — set to be held under a proportional representation system for the first time in Lebanon’s history — would take place in 2017.
Lebanon’s lawmakers have extended their own term three times since they were elected for a four-year period in 2009, and in June they extended it for another 11 months “for technical reasons.”
Berri said that previous extension was granted to ensure enough time to issue biometric ID cards to citizens, but the government only approved that step in its special session on Sunday. It is estimated that the shift to biometric ID cards will cost $130 million.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said on Tuesday that his “party is ready for the elections whenever the Ministry of Interior can hold them, using the current identity cards.”
He said that his party’s opposition to the introduction of biometric cards was a result of Lebanese Forces’ “commitment to transparency.”
The Kataeb Party, headed by MP Sami Gemayel, also opposed the switch to biometric cards, saying they were an attempt to rig the elections and re-elect the same lawmakers.
The switch to biometric cards will pose a number of problems. If they are adopted, 3,800,000 cards would have to be delivered in the next three months — which would be very difficult if not impossible.
Atef Majdalani, a member of the Future Movement parliamentary bloc, warned that the “reforms we are working on” – could not be guaranteed if the parliamentary term is shortened.
Zeina El-Helou, secretary general of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), said that introducing biometric ID cards was a positive step, but that it might delay the elections for a fourth time.
Walid Fakhreddine, former executive director of LADE, said that voters who are not affiliated to any particular party would be unlikely to receive biometric ID cards in time for the elections, whereas parties were likely to speed up the process for their supporters.
Fakhreddine, however, added that the real problem lay not with ID cards, but in the electoral laws’ flaws, particularly the requirement that people vote in their places of birth.

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