Will the debate over ‘mega centers’ delay Lebanon’s parliamentary elections?

Special Will the debate over ‘mega centers’ delay Lebanon’s parliamentary elections?
Lebanese President Michel Aoun. (AFP/File)
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Updated 10 March 2022

Will the debate over ‘mega centers’ delay Lebanon’s parliamentary elections?

Will the debate over ‘mega centers’ delay Lebanon’s parliamentary elections?
  • President Aoun is keen to create facilities that allow voters to cast their ballots without having to return to their hometowns
  • But opponents say the issue must not be allowed to derail the polls scheduled for May 15

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government is expected to make a decision on Thursday on whether to set up so-called mega centers to make it easier for people to vote in the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

The aim of the facilities, which are favored by President Michel Aoun, is to allow voters to cast their ballots outside their area of registration, meaning they would not have to return to their hometowns to do so.

However, it has been suggested that if the centers are created it could lead to the elections, currently scheduled for May 15, being delayed.

After a ministerial committee completed a report into the issue, the Cabinet must now decide how to proceed based on its findings. If it approves the idea, a draft law would have to be submitted to parliament to allow the centers to be created.

While Aoun’s camp said that “no legal measures were necessary to adopt the mega centers. It is very easy if the political intent is there,” the opposition said that “the issue requires legal amendments and will result in a very high financial cost.”

In the committee’s report, Tourism Minister Walid Nassar said: “The cost of establishing eight mega centers … does not exceed $2 million and they can be completed in no more than three weeks.”

But Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said the technical requirements of setting up the facilities would lead to disruption.

“The ministerial committee is against postponing the elections and insists on holding them on the designated date without any delay,” he said.

The disruption would be caused by the need for the centers to have the “necessary principles and requirements in order to have a sound election,” he said.

“It is not a tent that can be set up in neighborhoods with a ballot box on top of a table. It is way more complicated.

“Mega centers without electronic connection, fiber optics and a central server that provides the necessary linkage are not actual mega centers, unless they want them to be like tents.”

He added: “The company that will be in charge of this project will need up to three months to complete the task and link the main electoral centers to the mother server. Moreover, what applies to the Lebanese voters living outside the country should apply to voters residing in the country.”

Political observers said that the insistence of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement to establish mega centers aimed to “impose the extension of the current parliament’s mandate so that this same parliament elects the next president in the framework of a certain settlement.”

The presidential elections are set to take place in October.

But the FPM said its call for the establishment of mega centers was made in response to the change in circumstances since the 2018 elections.

“This is due to the significant economic collapse the country has been suffering from since 2019 and because it would be difficult for voters to go to their villages due to the high cost of transportation,” it said.

The huge spike in the price of gasoline — to close to 500,000 Lebanese pounds ($330) a gallon — meant that the centers would save the Lebanese people billions of lira, the FPM said.

“In addition, the mega centers help free the voters of numerous restrictions, raise the participation rate and promote the legitimacy of the electoral process,” it said.

The FPM is concerned that the high cost of traveling home to vote will deter many people from doing so. But political observers said that other political parties, especially Hezbollah and Amal Movement, are opposed to the idea of the mega centers as it could dilute the influence they hold in small villages and towns.

Other observers said that the FPM might be deliberately seeking to delay the polls to give it a greater chance of winning more parliamentary seats in certain regions.

“The aim could be even bigger than that. It could be seeking to create a parliamentary vacuum in order to disrupt the next presidential elections,” one observer said. “That way, Aoun remains the president to run the affairs of the state.”

MP Mohammad Hajjar, from the Future Parliamentary Bloc that represents the Sunni majority in parliament, told Arab News that if parliament decided to extend its mandate, the bloc’s MPs would resign.

“This decision has been taken and is irreversible. As for the postponement of the elections, that is a different story. We insist on holding the parliamentary elections on time. However, if an unexpected event occurs, that is a different matter.”


100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll
Updated 27 September 2022

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

DAMASCUS: Syrian authorities have recovered 100 bodies from a Lebanese migrant boat that sank off Syria last week, state media reported about one of the deadliest recent shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean.
The first bodies were found last Thursday and only 20 people were rescued out of as many as 150 passengers.
“The number of victims of the Lebanese boat has reached 100 people so far after another body was recovered from the sea,” Syria’s official news agency SANA on Monday quoted the head of Syrian ports Samer Kbrasli as saying.
All survivors have been discharged from hospital, SANA said.
Nearly three years of deep economic crisis have turned Lebanon into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees desperate to flee rising poverty via dangerous sea voyages.
Those aboard the ship that sailed from Lebanon’s impoverished northern city of Tripoli were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included children and elderly people, the United Nations said.
Lebanon hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s civil war and has been mired in a financial and economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi described the shipwreck as a “heart-wrenching tragedy.”
Since 2020, Lebanon has seen a spike in the number of migrants attempting the perilous crossing in jam-packed boats to reach Europe.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said that 10 children appeared to be “among those who lost their lives,” adding that “years of political instability and economic crisis in Lebanon have pushed many children and families into poverty.”


Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests
Updated 27 September 2022

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests
  • Najafi was shot six times in the city of Karaj, receiving bullets in the face and neck

DUBAI: A funeral has been held for Hadis Najafi, a young Iranian woman who was shot dead by security forces during protests near Tehran.

Najafi was shot six times in the city of Karaj, and was hit by bullets in the face and neck, according to a report by Radio Farda.

Videos of Najafi's funeral has been circulated on social media as online users paid tribute to the 20-year-old.
She had earlier gone viral in a TikTok video where she was seen tying her hair and preparing to join the anti-government protests, which were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the ‘morality police’ for breaching the strict Hijab rules.
At least 41 people have been killed as Iran continues to crack down on the nationwide demonstrations.


Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra
Updated 27 September 2022

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra
  • Algiers seeks non-permanent seat on Security Council
  • Candidacy endorsed by African, Arab and Islamic bodies

LONDON: Algeria’s development remains on track and will continue with the support of UN member states, the country’s foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra said on Monday.

During his speech at the General Assembly Debate, Lamamra also reaffirmed his country’s push for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

“My country is a member of the UN, it celebrates this year the 60th anniversary of independence,” he said. “It resolutely pursues the process of building a new Algeria under the leadership of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.”

He continued: “My country reaffirms its compliance with the values and principles (of the UN) and its determination to revive the role of multilateral action in keeping international peace and security and the achievement of comprehensive, fair, and sustainable development.”

Lamamra outlined Algeria’s commitment to the principles of the UN charter ahead of elections scheduled for next June on membership in the Security Council.

“Algeria is aware of the magnitude of unprecedented challenges that arise at the international and regional levels,” he said.

“Therefore, it has submitted its candidacy for the position of non-permanent member of the Security Council, a candidacy endorsed by the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.”

Lamamra also confirmed Algeria would host an Arab Summit on Nov. 1 and 2, and that Algiers “aspired to make this event a crucial step in the joint Arab action, for an effective contribution of the Arab world to dealing with the current challenges on the regional and international scenes.”


UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places

UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places
Updated 27 September 2022

UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places

UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places
  • Masks are still mandatory in medical facilities, place of worship, and public transport
  • The new rules, effective from Sept. 28, waived social distancing between worshipers

DUBAI: UAE residents are no longer required to wear masks in indoor public places, in the country’s biggest ease of restrictions since the outbreak of COVID-19, the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) announced.

However, masks are still mandatory in medical facilities, place of worship, and public transport, officials said.
“Senior citizens and residents and people with chronic diseases are advised to continue wearing masks for their safety,” according to Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, NCEMA’s official spokesperson.
The new rules, effective from Sept. 28, also waived social distancing between worshipers, while keeping the mask policy in mosques and other places of worship.
Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, the UAE placed a stringent mask policy in indoor and outdoor places, imposing $815 (Dh3,000) fine on violators.
In February, authorities lifted the requirement to wear masks outdoors.
Face masks will also be optional in schools.
Under the new rules, the isolation period for COVID-19 positive cases has been reduced from 10 days to five. Close contacts are required to take a PCR test only if they display symptoms.


Iranian football legend Ali Karimi under fire for condemning Mahsa Amini’s death

Iranian football legend Ali Karimi under fire for condemning Mahsa Amini’s death
Updated 27 September 2022

Iranian football legend Ali Karimi under fire for condemning Mahsa Amini’s death

Iranian football legend Ali Karimi under fire for condemning Mahsa Amini’s death
  • Former captain of Iran’s national football team has capitalized on his wide social media following to voice support for protests

DUBAI: Iranian football legend Ali Karimi, known as the Asian Maradona and the Magician, has come under fire for his social media posts condemning the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini after being detained by Tehran’s morality police.

Karimi, former captain of Iran’s national football team, has capitalized on his wide social media following to voice support for demonstrations against the government after Amini’s death.

His critical comments have earned scorn and blame from politicians, and has been accused of being one of the leaders what they describe as “riots” and “sedition,” Radio Farda reported.

“Don’t be afraid of strong women. Maybe the day will come when they are your only army,” to football legend wrote on Twitter for his more than 450,000 followers.

The Dubai-based Karimi has nearly 12 million followers on Instagram, where he also extensively posts support for the protest actions as well as tips about safe virtual private networks for Iranians to use to bypass state Internet restrictions, which have intensified amid the protests.

Meanwhile, Iranian civil rights activist Hossein Ronaghi has claimed he was beaten by guards in Tehran’s Evin prison, in a report from Radio Farda.

Prison officers broke his leg during the beating, while Ronaghi’s mother said her son told her he had been injured by guards, journalist Masoud Kazemi posted in a tweet on September 25.

The arrest comes amid anti-government protests over the death of 22-year-old Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for the alleged improper wearing of a hijab.