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ELECTIONS 2022

The government's headlong rush: mega voting centers in committee

The cabinet postpones the municipal and mokhtar elections to May 31, 2023.

The government's headlong rush: mega voting centers in committee

The cabinet meeting under the leadership of President Michel Aoun in Baabda, March 4, 2022. (Credit: Dalati and Nohra)

The government of Najib Mikati narrowly avoided a political shock that could have caused the rejection of the establishment of mega-voting centers for the legislative elections next May, a measure that President Michel Aoun, and his son-in-law, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil, have been pushing for.

At its meeting held Friday in Baabda and chaired by Aoun, the cabinet found no better solution than to return the ball of megacenters (giant polling stations that would allow voters to vote in their place of residence instead of going to their home districts) to the court of a ministerial committee that will be responsible for examining the issue and submitting a written plan by Tuesday. The commission is composed of ministers representing all parts of the government. It includes the Minister of Interior, Bassam Mawlawi, who will organize the legislative in May, and his colleagues: Abdallah Bou Habib (Foreign Affairs), Henri Khoury (Justice), Mohamad Mortada (Culture), Youssef Khalil (Finance), Walid Nassar (Tourism), Johnny Corm (Telecommunications) and Abbas Halabi (Education).

A ministerial source said that the committee was expanded at the request of Aoun after initially, there was talk of including only judges who are part of the ministerial team (Khoury, Mortada, Halabi and Mawlawi). However, the president did not want to limit the issue to the strictly legal dimension of the case.

The report of this committee will be presented at the government session scheduled for Thursday in Baabda, providing a means for the Mikati cabinet to buy time until a broader political agreement on this issue emerges, given the head of the FPM has made it clear that his party (which has made the megacenters one of its main hobbyhorses) will not stand idly by if the creation of megacenters is not approved. Following the line of the party he founded, Aoun had come out in favor of the adoption of these giant polling stations during the government session of Feb. 16.

In view of its timing, this request, which came only three months before the legislative elections, was interpreted by some as a desire by the presidential camp to postpone the vote, at a time when the popularity of the FPM has been declining for over two years and when the international community is pressing for the holding of elections on time. The Ministry of the Interior, which is primarily concerned with electoral issues, was the first to express hostility to opening a debate on megacenters so shortly before the elections. At the request of the head of government, Mawlawi prepared a study on these polling stations.

The results were published on Thursday. In its broad outlines, the study states that "the installation of megacenters within the given timeframe is complex, given the necessary legal changes, logistical obstacles and human resource requirements.”

"It would take a minimum of five months after the amendment of the electoral law [to set up the centers]," it said, as well as overall funding of $5.87 million at a time when the country is in the midst of an economic and financial collapse.

Nevertheless, Mawlawi presented his study to the government session.

"No one is opposed to the megacenters," saaid a minister close to the presidency. He confided that only the Minister of Education had expressed fears about a postponement of the elections.

Postponement of municipal elections

The cabinet also approved a proposal to postpone until May 31, 2023 the municipal (and mokhtar) elections that were to be held shortly after the parliamentary polls scheduled for May 15, while the presidential election is expected on Oct. 31. While it justified its proposal by the fact that Lebanon, plagued by an unprecedented economic and financial crisis for more than two years, was not ready to organize this election, neither in human nor in financial terms, the Mikati government did not take a decision with binding effect. Instead, it has tossed the ball to the Parliament, which should decide on the issue.

The cabinet’s decision did not come as a surprise. Mikati had said in September 2021, shortly after the formation of his government, that the municipal elections would be postponed, without giving clear reasons for such a step, while several observers considered it possible to hold this election in parallel with the parliamentary elections.

The official position on Ukraine

The Russian-Ukrainian war was once again brought before the Council of Ministers. Taking the floor, Mustafa Bayram, Minister of Labor (close to Hezbollah) denounced Lebanon's vote on Wednesday evening in favor of a non-binding resolution of the United Nations General Assembly isolating Moscow. The text demands that Russia immediately cease the use of force against Ukraine.

"Why are we once again expressing a bias that will only complicate our already difficult situation?" Bayram asked. “Doesn't such an issue deserve to be discussed in the cabinet, especially since we had opposed the first statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs?" He was referring to the statement of the Foreign Ministry that had condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In reaction, Mikati said: "We have already told you that the statement was not aimed at Russia.”

"We want to maintain the best relations with Moscow, but we are against the fact that the army of one country invades the territory of another," he stressed.

On a related not the government has released the amount of LL1.2 billion one billion to the High Relief Committee, in order to evacuate the Lebanese who arrived in Poland after fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

Following Aoun’s lead, Mikati and the Minister of Economy, Amine Salam, raised, outside the agenda of the session, the issue of food security, in view of the economic and financial crisis and the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this context, the Prime Minister suggested that preventive measures be taken to avoid a food crisis, especially if the war in Ukraine is prolonged. It is in this context that the government decided to form a committee chaired by the Minister of Economy and including his colleagues from the ministries of Industry, Culture, Defense and Agriculture.

During their speeches at the beginning of the session, Aoun and Mikati also outlined the discussions held earlier this week with delegations from the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Treasury, which had visited Lebanon.

"The financial situation can no longer tolerate (procrastination)," said President Aoun, who has made this issue, including the forensic audit of the Bank of Lebanon and public administrations and institutions, his hobby horse.

"I put all the protagonists face to face with their responsibilities," he said, in an allusion to those he accuses of obstructing the audit.

This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.


The government of Najib Mikati narrowly avoided a political shock that could have caused the rejection of the establishment of mega-voting centers for the legislative elections next May, a measure that President Michel Aoun, and his son-in-law, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil, have been pushing for.At its meeting held Friday in Baabda and chaired by Aoun, the cabinet...