BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament voted on Thursday to hold elections on March 27, despite objections from the deputies of the Free Patriotic Movement, President Michel Aoun’s party.
The date of the elections — along with Aoun’s request for the establishment of a “mega center” in which people could vote instead of returning to their hometowns — have sparked arguments between Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri and his Amal Movement party on one side, and the FPM on the other.
Aoun had asked for parliament to reconsider the election date, which was recommended by a joint committees’ session; to establish a mega center; and to allocate six parliamentary seats to Lebanese living abroad. Parliament did not grant any of his requests.
Berri ruled that the presence of 57 deputies was sufficient to hold the session that discussed Aoun’s requests. Several deputies from a range of parties objected to Berri’s decision, saying that a constitutional quorum requires a minimum of 65 deputies.
Hezbollah’s deputies all abstained from voting on whether to hold the elections on March 27 instead of May 8. They also voiced their support for the request of their ally, the FPM, to allocate six seats to expats. Both Hezbollah and the Amal Movement appear confident of retaining their current parliamentary allocations in the elections.
During the session, 77 deputies voted in favor of holding the elections on March 27 and 61 deputies voted in favor of a law allowing expats to vote.
Debate raged over the number of votes required to reach an absolute majority in the session, and how to calculate the number of deputies required to be present, as some have resigned and others died without replacement representatives being installed. According to Lebanon’s constitution, there are 128 parliamentary deputies, but Berri’s calculations were based on the current number of living deputies (124), excluding the 10 MPs whose resignation has been accepted, bringing the total to 114 and meaning, according to the speaker, that 57 members were needed to form a quorum. Berri also ruled that 59 votes constituted an absolute majority.
The speaker, a fierce opponent of the FPM, said the March date for the elections would not be changed, “because it was set based on the recommendations of parliamentary committees and voted for by parliament.”
Addressing the FPM deputies, he said: “Do you want the elections to be held or not? Tell the truth.”
Commenting on the demand to establish a mega center, which FPM leader Gebran Bassil said would allow “voters to vote from their residency areas instead of having to go all the way to their hometowns, due to the weather conditions in March and the date coinciding with Christians’ Lent, during which Christians fast,” Berri said: “We cannot have everything we wish for. Otherwise, the whole country will be crippled.”
Following the session, Bassil explained, “We withdrew from the session because of a major constitutional violation. Only 61 deputies voted in favor of the law allowing expats to vote for the 128 deputies, which means that the law was passed without the vote of the absolute majority. An absolute majority is 65 deputies, according to the constitution. Considering 59 deputies the absolute majority is a constitutional amendment that will be challenged.”
MP Bilal Abdullah told Arab News: “The problem had nothing to do with the issue of whether a quorum was reached or not. Everyone voted — which means that everyone was okay with the quorum issue. The problem is that, ever since the issue was discussed by parliamentary committees, the FPM’s deputies have been threatening to challenge the electoral law if their demands were not met.
“The law has now been approved and we are hearing formal objections. I hope the FPM and President Aoun do not appeal the law. We must wait. If they choose to appeal it before the Constitutional Council, that appeal will take time. But, meanwhile, preparations for the elections will continue.”
During its session, parliament also discussed the deadlines for expats to take part in the elections.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib said the deadlines currently in place meant there was “no way” expats would be able to participate in the elections.
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said expats’ ability to vote would be dependent on the Foreign Ministry’s ability to register their electoral lists.