Lebanese parliament confirms elections in March

Legislators reject President Michel Aoun's call to review electoral law amendments passed earlier

Speaker Nabih Berri heads a session of the Lebanese parliament in Beirut on October 28, 2021.  Reuters
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Lebanon's parliament on Thursday affirmed its approval of early elections next year despite a request from President Michel Aoun to reconsider.

A vote on allowing the government to hold the parliamentary election on March 27 instead of May 8, one of several electoral law amendments passed earlier this month, was backed by 77 of the legislature's 116 sitting members.

Mr Aoun returned the legislation to parliament, arguing that holding the election early could make it difficult for rural voters to cast their ballots because of bad winter weather, and would exclude 10,000 people who turn 21, the legal voting age, in February.

Parliament also endorsed an amendment to grant Lebanese expatriates the right to vote for representatives in their home districts, which was the case in the 2018 polls. The current election law stipulates that non-resident Lebanese citizens vote exclusively for six additional MP seats in the 2022 election, rather than district representatives, increasing the number of seats in Parliament from 128 to 134.

Mr Aoun had argued that abolishing the six additional seats "exceptionally" for the coming election was a violation of the constitution.

Parliament endorsed the amendment again on Thursday with 61 MPs voting in favour, prompting Gebran Bassil, Mr Aoun's son-in-law and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement party founded by the president, to walk out of the session.

Mr Bassil, an ally of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and head of the largest parliamentary bloc, said the amendment failed to secure the absolute majority of 65 MPs required to pass a law that has been returned by the president.

His political rivals argued that only 59 votes were needed for absolute majority after the deaths of three MPs and the resignation of nine others.

Mr Bassil threatened to challenge the law before the Constitutional Council.

George Adwan, an MP of the Lebanese Forces, the country's second-largest Christian party, said Parliament calculated the absolute majority based on precedents.

Holding early elections was one of the key demands of several opposition groups, which also wanted expatriates to be able to vote for district representatives rather than six additional MPs.

Experts say political parties fear the wide participation of expatriates in voting for representatives in their home districts could tip the balance in favour of opposition groups, in light of the country's worst economic crisis in decades.

Lebanon’s financial meltdown since late 2019, widely blamed on rampant corruption, has been called by the World Bank one the top three most severe economic crises since the 1850s.

The crisis has fuelled inflation, poverty and unemployment, sending thousands of Lebanese overseas in search of jobs in the latest wave of immigration. There are no official figures, but the number of people who have left the country in the past two years is estimated be in the tens of thousands. There were 83,000 expatriates eligible to vote in the 2018 elections.

The crisis has been compounded by the massive explosion at Beirut port in August last year, which killed more than 200 people and destroyed large parts of the capital.

The explosion forced the resignation of the government and plunged the country into political paralysis for more than a year.

Updated: October 28, 2021, 12:33 PM