Aoun’s party appeals against Lebanese election law amendments

Aoun’s party appeals against Lebanese election law amendments
Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
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Updated 18 November 2021

Aoun’s party appeals against Lebanese election law amendments

Aoun’s party appeals against Lebanese election law amendments
  • Parliament moves poll from May to March; scraps plans for MPs for expats and allow people to vote where they reside

BEIRUT: Just 72 hours before the deadline for expatriates to register to vote in the Lebanese parliamentary elections currently scheduled for March 27 next year, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement party on Wednesday lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Council over amendments to electoral law recently approved by the parliament.

On Oct. 28, an absolute majority in parliament approved plans to amend the 2017 electoral laws so that parliamentary elections can be held in March instead of May. They also scrapped its provisions for the election of six members of parliament to represent expatriates and the introduction of a biometric, magnetic card that would allow voters to cast their ballots where they live rather than returning to their home towns to vote. Aoun had previously rejected these amendments. FPM members walked out of parliament in protest when they were approved.

In its appeal to the Constitutional Council, the president’s team argued that the decision not to allow expatriates to have their own elected representatives in parliament has “canceled a basic and fundamental right of a special Lebanese group.”

It added that “the amendment of the deadlines is a violation of the principle of separation of powers, as the parliament is not entitled to discuss the date of the elections determined by the executive authority, which constitutes a violation of the provisions of the Constitution.”

The appeal also argued that “the abolition of Article 84 of the law, related to the magnetic card, which allows the voter to vote in his place of residence, will affect the credibility and transparency of the electoral process.”

FPM member Alain Aoun said: “The Constitutional Council will issue its decision within a month and the FPM will abide by its decision.”

He also warned against “any step that could be taken by the minister of interior that entails inviting the electoral bodies to convene before the Constitutional Council issues its decision regarding the appeal.”

If the Constitutional Council upholds the appeal, then the provision of six seats in parliament to represent expatriates will be reconsidered. If not, Lebanese citizens living in other countries will have to vote in one of the 15 electoral districts in Lebanon.

The president opposes the rescheduling of the elections because of the effect he says this will have on campaigning. He also opposes the scrapping of plans for voting “megacenters” that would allow people to vote outside the areas where they are registered, on the grounds that this will negatively affect turnout among Christians in remote areas, who would be forced to return to their home villages to vote during snowy weather and pay for costly transportation to do so.

The president’s appeal has caused some to wonder whether the move could disrupt the elections, causing a postponement or even cancellation. If the minister of interior sticks with the plans for a March 27 polling date, he will have to call on electoral bodies to convene before Dec. 27. It is also possible that there could be attempts to obstruct the Constitutional Council session to discuss the appeal.

Gebran Bassil, the head of the FPM, wants to maximize the number of expatriates who register to vote from their countries of residence. As of Wednesday, 180,000 expatriates had registered to vote in Lebanese embassies abroad. The deadline for registration is Nov. 20.

Hadi Abul-Hassan, secretary of the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, on Wednesday highlighted concerns that personal information about expatriates who have registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to vote has been leaked to a “certain political movement that is using it for its own benefit.”

He asked Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdallah Bou Habib for “an answer regarding this information and for firm measures to put an end for this farce.”

Walid Fakhreddin, an expert in electoral affairs, told Arab News: “Some embassies abroad have leaked the phone numbers of expatriates eligible to vote to the FPM so that it can communicate with them, which has infuriated these expatriates, who consider that this data should have been protected.”

He said that the FPM “fears losing the elections because it has lost the electoral leverage provided by former allies that broke up with it due to their rivalries, noting that the popularity of the FPM has declined inside Lebanon.”

He added that its is “not only the FPM that fears losing the elections, for there are other parties that fear they will lose in light of the shift in the public mood that has deprived them of huge support.”

Fakhreddin said that international support and aid for Lebanon is conditional on the successful staging of elections, which prevents the parties in power from attempting to cancel them.

“In this context, the appeal of the FPM will not obstruct the elections,” he said. “However, when the decree calling for the electoral bodies to convene is presented to him, the president might try to maneuver to postpone the elections until May.”

Meanwhile the Lebanese Business Councils in the Gulf has written to the minister of foreign affairs complaining that “hundreds of registration applications for residents outside Lebanon are pending because the ministry is currently refusing to register them under tourist or commercial visit visas.”

The group said that “many Lebanese abroad are waiting for their official residencies to be issued, which is a process that takes a long time, which presents an obstacle to them that prevents them from performing their right to vote.”

It called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “provide facilities to allow this category to participate in the elections.”

The Lebanese Business Councils include the Lebanese Executives Council, the Lebanese-Saudi Business Council, the Abu Dhabi-Lebanese Business Council, the Lebanese Business Council in Kuwait, the Lebanese Business Council in Dubai and Northern Emirates, and the Lebanese-Gulf Economic Relations Development Authority.


Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh

Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh
Updated 59 min ago

Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh

Four Iraqi Kurdish fighters killed in attack blamed on Daesh
  • Five other Peshmerga fighters were wounded in the violence late Sunday in northern Iraq

BAGHDAD: Four Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were killed in an attack blamed on the Daesh group, a security official said Monday, the third such assault in less than two weeks.
Five other Peshmerga fighters were wounded in the violence late Sunday in northern Iraq that targeted an outpost north of Kirkuk, the source said.
Kurdish army forces confirmed the deadly attack but did not say how Peshmerga fighters were killed in wounded, in a statement accusing Daesh of responsibility.
It was the third attack blamed on Daesh militants in less than two weeks against the Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.
On Thursday, Daesh claimed responsibility for an assault south of the Kurdish capital of Irbil that killed at least nine Peshmerga fighters and three civilians.
At the end of November, five Peshmergas were killed in a roadside bombing also claimed by the militant group.
Daesh seized swathes of Iraq in a lightning offensive in 2014, before being beaten back by a counter-insurgency campaign supported by a US-led military coalition.
The Iraqi government declared the extremists defeated in late 2017, although the Daesh retains sleeper cells which still strike security forces with hit-and-run attacks.


Israel: Palestinian car-rammer wounds guard, is shot dead

Israel: Palestinian car-rammer wounds guard, is shot dead
Updated 06 December 2021

Israel: Palestinian car-rammer wounds guard, is shot dead

Israel: Palestinian car-rammer wounds guard, is shot dead
  • Palestinians have carried out dozens of stabbing, car-ramming and occasional shooting attacks in recent years
  • Most have been carried out by lone attackers with no known connection to militant groups

JERUSALEM: A 16-year-old Palestinian rammed a vehicle into an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank overnight, wounding a security guard before being shot and “neutralized” at the scene, the Israeli Defense Ministry said Monday.
Israeli media reported that the alleged attacker was killed, while a ministry official declined to comment further.
The attack came two days after a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank stabbed and wounded an Israeli man just outside Jerusalem’s Old City and tried to stab a Border Police officer before being shot and killed. Video taken by bystanders showed the police continuing to shoot the attacker after he had dropped to the ground and preventing medics from approaching him.
The shooting drew comparisons to a 2016 incident in which an Israeli soldier was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. The soldier was imprisoned for several months in a case that divided the country.
The Israeli Justice Ministry said the two officers involved in Saturday’s shooting were brought in for questioning before being released without conditions. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other top officials have praised the officers’ response to the attack.
Palestinians have carried out dozens of stabbing, car-ramming and occasional shooting attacks in recent years. Most have been carried out by lone attackers with no known connection to militant groups, which have praised the attacks without claiming responsibility for them.
Rights groups say Israel sometimes uses excessive force, killing suspected attackers who could have been arrested and did not pose an immediate threat. Israeli officials say forces must make split-second decisions in dangerous situations and that all such incidents are investigated.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state. The territory’s 2.5 million Palestinian residents live under Israeli military rule, with the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority administering cities and towns.


Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’
Updated 06 December 2021

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’
  • The recent directive comes amid an increase in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 omicron cases around the world

MANAMA: Nigeria has been added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’ as part of a new update announced on Sunday by the National Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the country’s Civil Aviation Affairs. 
According to Bahraini authorities, the list also includes South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola and Zambia.
Passengers from red list countries are prohibited from entering Bahrain, including those who have transited through the mentioned countries; however, this does not apply to citizens and residents of Bahrain.

The recent directive comes amid an increase in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 omicron cases around the world, which was first detected in southern African nations. 

Several countries have already imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa, including the UAE, US, Britain, Brazil, Indonesia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.


Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
Updated 06 December 2021

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
  • MP Ali Darwish, from Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, hopes 'positive signs to emerge in coming days’

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has affirmed his government’s commitment to honoring its undertakings for reform.

Mikati said that his joint phone call on Saturday with Saudi and French leaders was “an important step toward restoring historic brotherly relations with Riyadh.”

A joint Saudi-French statement, following the joint phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Macron with Mikati, linked “economic aid to Lebanon with the implementation of the required reforms.”

The statement reiterated demands that Lebanon should “implement comprehensive reforms, monitor borders, abide by the Taif Agreement, limit arms to the legitimate state institutions and not be a launching pad for any terrorist acts that destabilize the region (nor) a source of drug trafficking.”

Mikati also said: “I thank President Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their keenness in maintaining the friendship toward Lebanon.”

Mikati called both President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and briefed them on the phone call.

Mikati’s media office said that Aoun and Berri “expressed their satisfaction and stressed their adherence to the best relations with Saudi Arabia and all brotherly Arab countries, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

Mikati called “all parties in Lebanon to appreciate the sensitivity of the situation and circumstances and not to take any action or interfere in any matter that offends the Arab brothers and harms the Lebanese.”

He added: “It is time to commit again to the policy of disassociation and not to involve ourselves and our country in what has nothing to do with us.”

The Saudi position toward Lebanon left the Lebanese anxiously relieved about the extent of the seriousness of the ruling authority in implementing what was agreed on in Jeddah between French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Although Macron succeeded in opening the door to a solution to Lebanon’s diplomatic and economic crisis with Saudi Arabia, and thus the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, after the resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi from the government following his statements about the Kingdom, there is a fear that Hezbollah will continue to embroil Lebanon in regional politics.

However, MP Ali Darwish, who is from Prime Minister Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, expects “positive signs to emerge in the coming days.”

Darwish said that appointing a parliamentary committee to try presidents, ministers and MPs in return for allowing Cabinet sessions to take place was “one of the proposals.”

Darwish told Arab News that “the Saudi-French move has undoubtedly breached the wall of stalemate in Lebanon’s relationship with the Gulf, which Lebanon is keen to be extremely good in the midst of the conflict in the region.”

On the implementation of the French-Saudi statement, Darwish said: “The reforms are contained in the ministerial statement of Prime Minister Mikati’s government, and they are his government’s agenda, and he is striving to achieve them.”

Darwish added: “The most important thing now is to restore the connection that was cut off, to return the ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries, and to return the Arab ambassadors to Lebanon.”

Darwish said that the Mikati government would “never interfere in the judicial matter, as there is a separation of powers.”

However, he indicated that activating the Parliamentary Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers was possible but it required steps to be taken by parliament.

Darwish added: “However, the trade-off between this matter and any other matter, especially the dismissal of the governor of the Banque du Liban, is not on the table.”

Darwish said that Mikati’s concern “is securing the livelihood of the Lebanese people in light of the current severe economic crisis.”

He said work was “now focused on rounding the corners and bringing the views closer.”


Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
Updated 06 December 2021

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
  • It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation

BETHLEHEM: Residents lit up a giant Christmas tree outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, hoping that a new coronavirus variant does not ruin another holiday season in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was all but closed last Christmas, losing its peak tourist season to the pandemic.

This December has seen Israel shut out foreign travelers for 14 days to try to prevent the omicron variant taking hold, and the hope is that the ban will end as scheduled, in time for Christmas travel. In its last pre-pandemic winter, in 2019/20, Bethlehem hosted 3.5 million visitors.

The giant tree, topped with a bright red star, was lit up with hundreds of colored lights as red, white and green fireworks illuminated the night sky.

Mayor Anton Salman said the travel ban had prevented several foreign delegations attending.

Nonetheless, the audience in Manger Square in front of the church was far bigger than last year, when coronavirus restrictions kept even local spectators away.

"It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation," said Maria, a tourist from Finland who did not provide her full name.