Lebanese president returns electoral law to parliament

Aoun did not sign the law, to which parliament introduced some amendments. He has requested that these amendments be reconsidered. (Reuters)
Aoun did not sign the law, to which parliament introduced some amendments. He has requested that these amendments be reconsidered. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 October 2021

Lebanese president returns electoral law to parliament

Aoun did not sign the law, to which parliament introduced some amendments. He has requested that these amendments be reconsidered. (Reuters)
  • Aoun justifies opposition to law by citing ‘natural and climatic factors’ that often occur in March and could prevent voting
  • Bassil may benefit from these developments and reap rewards elsewhere, says analyst

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun has sent a law amending legislative election rules back to parliament for reconsideration, the presidency said in a statement.

Aoun did not sign the law, to which parliament introduced some amendments. He has requested that these amendments be reconsidered.

Aoun’s objection comes after the Free Patriotic Movement bloc raised its opposition to holding elections in March instead of May because it “narrows its margins of action.”

During the legislative session of Oct. 19, the bloc also objected to proposals to change the expatriate voting formula by canceling the six allocated seats and allowing expatriates to vote for the electoral lists.

The FPM sought to allocate these six seats in the electoral law, provided that voting for these representatives would take place in the 2022 elections.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on the parliamentary committees to convene next Tuesday to discuss Aoun’s response to the electoral law.

Observers described these developments as a sign of a political struggle for the presidency.

The parliament to be elected in March is expected to pick the new president after Aoun’s term ends in October.

In the decree in which he requested a review of the amendments, Aoun said that “shortening the constitutional deadline for the elections could prevent voters from being able to exercise their electoral right due to the natural and climatic factors that often prevail in March, making it impossible for voters to reach their polling stations, not to mention the cost of transportation and the inability to supply polling stations with electricity.”

He added: “This could also prevent voters residing outside Lebanon from exercising their political right preserved in the current electoral law by voting for their representatives in the electoral district designated for non-residents.”

The president said that the amendments to the law deprive the right to vote from 10,685 citizens, who would reach the age of 21 between Feb. 1 and March 30, 2022.

Zeina Helou, an elections expert, told Arab News: “Aoun is trying to pull strings in order to later accuse the other political parties of preventing him from carrying out the reforms he wanted.”

She added: “Aoun and his political team prefer to gain more time to conduct the elections rather than move the date up.

“Freezing the voter lists will deprive new voters who would soon turn 21 from the right to vote, and this may be a reason to appeal before the Constitutional Council.”

Helou added that “the FPM fears that Christian voters who live in Greater Beirut will not go to the polling stations in their remote villages and towns in Akkar, in the north, the south, and Baalbek-Hermel, either because of the high prices of gasoline or because of the stormy weather in the mountains in March, and insists on Mega polling centers.”

She noted that “this process requires a lot of time to be arranged, but I doubt that the rest of the political parties want these polling stations in the places where voters live because they lose the ability to control their voters and know who they voted for.”

Helou pointed out: “The Shiite duo, Hezbollah and the Amal movement — unlike Aoun and his political team — do not fear the upcoming elections. Hezbollah does not derive its legitimacy from the elections but from its weapons and power.

“Hezbollah is able to obstruct any parliamentary session, just as it is currently obstructing holding cabinet sessions until Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut port blast, is removed. The second Hezbollah feels threatened, it will turn the tables.”

Justifications for disrupting the elections in March may already be in motion, regardless of constitutional reasons that may or may not be taken into account.

Helou told Arab News that FPM head MP Gebran Bassil — who has always wanted to become president — may benefit from the current developments and reap rewards elsewhere.

Although the political parties believe it is still too early to discuss what the upcoming parliamentary elections will bear, Helou said that in 2018, the elections were held amid understanding and settlements between the political parties in power, while in 2022 they will be marked by tug-of-war and alliances.

“The same parties could be re-elected and regain their seats in parliament, and we may see a low voter turnout for lack of convincing alternatives.”

Next Tuesday, parliament is expected to either approve Aoun’s request, which requires the votes of 61 MPs, or appeal it before the Constitutional Council.

Parliament could also introduce some amendments to the law, which requires the votes of half of the quorum plus one; if the quorum is 65 MPs, the law would need 33 votes.


Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen
Updated 31 sec ago

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen

Yemen, US officials accuse Iran of imperiling peace efforts in Yemen
  • Yemeni FM: Iranians using Yemen as a blackmail card to extract concessions during nuclear talks
  • Lenderking: Houthi military activities in Yemen, attacks on Saudi Arabia prove militia is not willing to end war

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni and American officials have accused the Iranian regime of perpetuating the war in Yemen through arming and training the Houthis, renewing demands that the Houthis abandon military activities and comply with peace efforts. 

Speaking on Friday during Mediterranean Dialogues, an annual high-level gathering sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies in Rome, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak and the US special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking agreed that the Iranians played a negative role in Yemen and the Houthis were not serious about striking a peace deal to end the war. 

The foreign minister said that the Iranians were using Yemen as a blackmail card to extract concessions during nuclear talks and to settle scores with their opponents. 

“Iran is using Yemen as a bargaining chip and they want to get something in Yemen while they are holding talks in Vienna,” the Yemeni minister said, arguing that the Houthis’ hard-line beliefs that they had a heavenly mandate to rule Yemen stopped them from accepting peace initiatives. 

“They believe that they are superior and they have a divine right to rule Yemen. It is rooted in their ideology . . . we want them to admit that all Yemenis are equal.”

The US Yemen envoy said that the Houthis escalating military activities in Yemen — mainly in the central province of Marib — and their cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia, proved that they were not willing to end the war, and repeated accusations that Iran was seeking to overthrow the Yemeni government. 

“It is clear that the Houthis intend to try to bring down the Yemen government. The Iranians I believe would like to see the same . . . the Marib offensive should stop if the Houthis are serious about peace,” Lenderking said, adding that the Houthis “forcibly recruit” young men in densely populated areas under their control through intimidation and pressure to compensate for the high casualties they have suffered during their offensive in Marib. 

“The Houthis are really going against the current world opinion here and this is seen as a sort of a test case here of Houthis’ willingness to move away from a military solution into a political solution,” Lenderking said about the Marib offensive. 

Bin Mubarak warned that the Houthi occupation of Marib would bring an end to the political process in Yemen and have an impact on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. He urged international donors to help his government in Aden address the country’s economic problems, including the rapid devolution of the Yemeni riyal. 

“Marib is a cornerstone. If the fighting continues in Marib and the Houthis think they can make a military victory . . . this will collapse the entire peace process and it will have a negative impact on everything.”

Separately, the Arab coalition announced on Saturday that it carried out 11 air raids on Houthi targets in the central province of Marib, killing 60 Houthis and destroying seven military vehicles.  

The announcement comes as fierce fighting continues in the main battlefields outside the city of Marib as government troops battle relentless attacks by the Houthis.  

Intensive airstrikes by the Arab coalition supported Yemeni government troops on the ground and thwarted Houthi attempts to reinforce their forces.


Minister: No cases of Omicron variant in Egypt, country prepared for all outcomes

Minister: No cases of Omicron variant in Egypt, country prepared for all outcomes
Updated 04 December 2021

Minister: No cases of Omicron variant in Egypt, country prepared for all outcomes

Minister: No cases of Omicron variant in Egypt, country prepared for all outcomes
  • On Friday Egypt recorded 933 new cases of COVID-19 and 49 deaths

CAIRO: Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, the acting Egyptian minister of health, confirmed no cases of the new coronavirus Omicron variant have been found in the North African country.

Abdel Ghaffar said recent studies had taken samples from all of Egypt’s governorates, so far failing to report a single case.

He added that no country is able to prevent the entry of any mutation, but that the government was ready for all variants of the virus.

Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, a spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Health, denied claims that two people were infected with the Omicron variant on a plane from Ethiopia, and also denied the arrival of an Egyptian citizen carrying the mutation in Cairo on a plane from South Africa.

He stressed people would need to continue to adhere to the precautionary measures implemented at all entry points to the country. 

The Ministry of Health decided to conduct rapid COVID-19 tests for those flying into Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini, sending back any positive cases on the plane they arrived on, or quarantining them if their final destination was Egypt. 

The minister stressed that the state’s procedures are within the framework of preventing the entry of the Omicron variant into Egypt, and added that when a case is identified, it will be announced with full transparency.

On Friday Egypt recorded 933 new cases of COVID-19 and 49 deaths, bringing the total number of cases recorded in Egypt to 361,368, of which 299,434 have recovered, and 20,643 deaths.


Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened

Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened
Updated 04 December 2021

Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened

Tunisia’s union calls for early elections, says democratic gains are threatened
  • The UGTT union, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, is a key political player in Tunisia

TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful UGTT union called for early elections on Saturday, saying it was concerned for the country’s democratic gains because of the president’s reluctance to announce a roadmap for political reforms.
UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi’s comments, in a speech to thousands of his supporters, put more pressure on President Kais Saied, more than four months after he seized all political powers.
“We supported July 25 because it was an opportunity to save the country and implement reforms ... but we have become afraid for Tunisians’ democratic gains because of the excessive reluctance to announce a roadmap,” Taboubi said.
He added that the president should call for a dialogue with political parties and national organizations that includes reviewing the electoral law and agreeing on early and transparent elections.
The UGTT union, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, is a key political player in Tunisia.
Saied suspended parliament and dismissed the government on July 25, installing a new prime minister and announcing he would rule by decree. Critics denounced his move as a coup.
The president has defended his takeover as the only way to end governmental paralysis after years of political squabbling and economic stagnation. He has promised to uphold rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution.
Saied also promised to end the emergency state quickly but has not given a date for this, and pressure has mounted for him to present a roadmap to return to parliamentary democracy.


Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 

Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 
Updated 04 December 2021

Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 

Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 

LONDON: Yemen’s military commander heading army troops in Marib Maj. Gen. Mansour Thawaba said he was hopeful of advancements in the strategic province after Houthi supply lines were cut. 

There have been “great advances” in the past two days in Bayhan, Usaylan and Harib, the major general told Al-Arabiya, noting that army forces cut the Houthis’ supply line between Bayhan and Harib.

He explained that military operations continued on all fronts, with the southern front seeing most of the action. He also noted the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s support with airstrikes. 

“Marib is not besieged, and the Houthis are far from achieving this,” he said. 

He added that most of those fighting for the Houthis were children and young men. 

“They do not care about the children of Yemenis who are killed by the dozens every day,” he said, referring to the Houthi militia. 

The coalition announced on Friday night that it had destroyed a ballistic missile launcher south of Sanaa.

The coalition added that it also destroyed a “mine-making workshop” in the capital, stressing that it had taken “preventive measures to spare civilians and civilian structures from collateral damage” during the airstrikes.


Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed

Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed
Updated 04 December 2021

Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed

Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed
  • The chaos comes amid a wave of violent crime in Israel’s Arab community that shows no sign of abating

UMM AL-FAHM, Israel: Police on Friday shot and killed a man in an Arab town in northern Israel who had allegedly been involved in a car-ramming attack that wounded two officers, Israeli officials said.
The incident capped an eruption of communal violence in Umm Al-Fahm, including armed clashes among residents. On Thursday, a man was shot and killed in the town. Israeli police and firefighters raced to the community as gunfire rang out and buildings were set ablaze.
The chaos comes amid a wave of violent crime in Israel’s Arab community that shows no sign of abating, despite far-reaching action announced in recent months by Israeli authorities.
Friday’s incident began when paramilitary Border Police opened fire on a vehicle speeding toward them, fatally shooting one man and wounding the other in the car, who was arrested after receiving medical treatment, Border Police said. They said the two officers suffered light to moderate wounds.
They said a gun and ammunition were found in the car, and that the two men were suspected of involvement in violent family disputes that have rocked Umm Al-Fahm in recent months. Authorities said the car-ramming was not politically motivated.
Arab towns across Israel have seen a major escalation in violence in recent years driven by organized crime and family feuds. At least 117 Arabs have been killed in 2021, the highest number on record, according to the Abraham Initiatives, which promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence. The crime rate among Arabs far exceeds their 20 percent share of the population.
Arab citizens of Israel have the right to vote, most speak fluent Hebrew, and they have a large presence in the country’s universities and medical profession. But they face widespread discrimination, especially with housing.
They have close familial ties to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and largely identify with their cause, leading many Jewish Israelis to view them with suspicion. Jewish-Arab violence erupted across Israel during the Gaza war in May.
Arab activists have long accused police of ignoring crime in their communities. Israeli officials have touted a number of initiatives in recent years, including larger budgets for law enforcement in Arab communities, but police say local leaders could do more to help them.
Israel’s current government pledged major action against crime in Arab communities in August as it announced a wave of arrests. That was a central demand of a small party that made history this year by being the first Arab faction to join a ruling coalition.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed support for the police on Friday, calling for improved security and further dialogue with Arab leaders.