BEIRUT — Following a back and forth with President Michel Aoun regarding proposed amendments to the law for next year’s parliamentary elections, the Parliament approved earlier elections in a contentious meeting that saw Free Patriotic Movement MPs walk out of the session.
During the Thursday session, 61 of the gathered MPs once again voted in favor of amendments for the elections to be held on Mar. 27, 2022 instead of May 8 and for Lebanese expatriate votes to be counted across the 128 existing seats, instead of adding 6 new seats to legislature just to represent Lebanese living abroad.
A debate erupted over whether the number of votes in favor met the constitutional criteria of an absolute majority of the parliament that is required for approving the amendments after Aoun earlier in October sent them back to parliament for further consideration.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced that an absolute majority would consist of 59 MPs, or half of the currently serving parliamentarians plus one. Eleven seats in Lebanon’s 128-member parliament are vacant after eight MPs resigned in the wake of the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion and another three died.
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran Bassil and fellow parliamentarians from his party, which opposed moving the elections forward, walked out of the session in anger over Berri’s decision.
“We withdrew from the session because of a major constitutional violation,” Bassil said afterward, adding that the 61 votes in favor of the amendments did not reach what he argued was an absolute majority of 65, or half of the total seats in parliament plus one.
Following the session, Berri hit back at Bassil’s claims about constitutional violations, saying, “What happened was not a constitutional amendment and Parliament has the authority to interpret the Constitution.”
He added that the method of not including resigned and dead MPs in the count for purposes of calculating quorum had been used previously during the elections of presidents Bachir Gemayel and Rene Mouawad.
While Parliament was scheduled to tackle a raft of proposed laws, Berri adjourned the session after quorum was lost. Among the proposals not tackled by legislature were amendments for a World Bank loan to pay for social aid programs. Before the session came to an end, MPs had decided to send back to committees two long-delayed draft laws for capital controls.
Thursday's session comes on the heels of the joint parliamentary committee’s vote Tuesday to stick to their recommendation to move up the upcoming legislative elections from May 8 to March 27. Aoun declined to sign into law amendments approved by the Parliament on Oct. 19 to hold earlier elections, kicking the issue back to the legislature.
The president and his son-in-law Bassil argue that elections in March would face logistical complications due to winter weather and disenfranchise thousands of voters that would have turned 21, the legal voting age, by May 8.
“The weather is not the only objection we have, we can not hold early elections because the logistics will take time and we can not expect all the embassies and the Foreign Ministry to get everything done during this period, especially as there are [upcoming] holidays including Christmas and New Year’s,” Bassil said in parliament Thursday.
Proponents of holding the vote in March say that doing so would avoid an overlap between political campaigning and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, expected run through April 2022, when faithful fast from sunrise to sundown. Analysts have said that consensus around earlier elections is based on political calculations, including shortening the tenure of Premier Najib Mikati’s cabinet.
BEIRUT — Following a back and forth with President Michel Aoun regarding proposed amendments to the law for next year’s parliamentary elections, the Parliament approved earlier elections in a contentious meeting that saw Free Patriotic Movement MPs walk out of the session.During the Thursday session, 61 of the gathered MPs once again voted in favor of amendments for the elections to be held...