Is Lebanon heading towards a new political crisis?
After Lebanon’s two-and-a-half-year presidential vacuum ended with the election of Michel Aoun on October 31st, 2016, the country is now facing a new political crisis: How to ensure electoral law and parliamentary elections.
The mandate of Lebanon’s parliament ends June 20th and has already been extended twice. To prevent a void, the country needs to either authorise a new law by mid-April or have the parliamentary bloc sign a project law to extend the mandate.
It is Aoun’s prerogative to approve the extension law within a month after being approved by parliament, which can then adopt it with a simple 65-vote majority. The regular session or parliament ends May 31st, however, and authorising an extraordinary session requires the signature of Aoun, who is unlikely to approve of the extension without approval of a new law.
Aoun also has the right to request the Constitutional Council to review the constitutionality of the extension law, creating a delicate political situation for the various institutions involved.
There are three likely scenarios going forward:
1) Elections will be held in accordance with the timeline prescribed by the current law. This option seems to have already failed, as Aoun has refused to sign decrees relating to the country’s voter base and an independent elections committee. It is almost unanimous that elections will not be on May 21st;
2) A political compromise will be reached allowing for a new electoral law to be implemented that is accepted by all political parties. A technical extension of the term would be automatically adopted. The success of this scenario depends largely on how quickly the country’s different parties can progress with their political discussion. To be successful, the process should be completed before June 20th, preferably before May 31st, when parliament’s ordinary session ends. Otherwise an extra session will need to be opened with the approval of both the president and the prime minister;
3) The government will fail to reach an agreement on the electoral law and Aoun refuses to sign a decree for the current law’s technical extension. This would automatically drag the country into a severe political and constitutional crisis.
Unlike any other type of legislation, electoral law in Lebanon has always been of central importance to all political forces. Its ramifications for the country’s political scene and diverse institutional landscape are significant.
A few months ago, Aoun announced that if legislators failed to approve a new electoral law, he would refrain from signing the decrees calling the electoral base to prepare for elections.
The central dispute goes to the question of whether the Lebanese president’s power to sign decrees is automatic or if it is linked to his political convictions. Obviously, if refraining from signing will paralyse state institutions, the president is engaging in an abuse of power.
Instead of joining efforts to resolve Lebanon’s growing social and economic problems, some political parties have blocked each others’ projects and are working together only on issues that can further their own agenda. This type of political opportunism partly explains the severe deterioration of Lebanon’s public services and infrastructure.
In Lebanon, neither a majoritarian system nor a proportional system of governance is acceptable to most parties. A compromise between the two systems seems to be the only possible option.