While the various political stakeholders appear to want to indefinitely postpone municipal elections, Caretaker Bassam Mawlawi said Monday that his ministry was ready to launch the electoral process by the legal deadline on May 7.
He urged officials to ensure the necessary funding.
“The necessary administrative work for holding the municipal elections is complete, but it needs to be supplemented by state funding,” said Mawlawi during a Monday press conference.
The issue of funding has been a source of contention for several weeks among various parties, who disagree on how to cover the estimated costs of nearly $8 million.
But why? L’Orient-Le Jour provides further details.
Special drawing rights
The Lebanese Forces (LF) and the Kataeb are requesting the government to allocate a portion of the special drawing rights (SDRs) to fund the cost of the elections. Kataeb leader Sami Gemayel made this demand during a joint parliamentary committee session held on March 28. Gemayel’s proposal sparked a strong reaction from Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil.
In 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided Lebanon with SDRs worth over $1 billion based on quotas allocated to its 189 member states, including Lebanon. The primary objective was to “support global recovery after the COVID-19 crisis,” stated IMF Director Kristalina Georgieva at the time.
The SDRs were deposited into a Finance Ministry account at Banque du Liban (BDL). Most of the funds have been spent, with only $392 million remaining, according to a Finance Ministry document shared with L’Orient-Le Jour by LF MP Ghassan Hasbani.
According to the document, almost $244 million were allocated for cancer drugs, $223 million for the Electricité du Liban (EDL), $121 million for wheat subsidies, $13 million for printing passports, and several other millions for various items.
“I am for using SDRs to fund municipal elections,” Hasbani said.
Who decides on the use of SDRs?
According to renowned tax lawyer Karim Daher, the decision to use of SDRs depends on whether or not these funds are incorporated into public accounts.
“If SDRs are not yet included in the public accounts, a law must be passed to allocate the funds to the municipalities,” said Daher. “However, if they are still in the central bank, BDL approval is required. The central bank would then provide the funds to the state through either an advance or a loan.”
Hasbani confirmed that the SDRs are still in the central bank.
Both processes are subject to specific rules in the Code of Money and Credit.
“An advance must be returned by the state within four months, while a loan can only be granted in exceptional circumstances or cases of emergency. In any case, the loan must be repaid within a maximum of 10 years,” said Daher.
Law annexed to the budget
The Amal Movement and Hezbollah advocated for the adoption of a law that would provide the required funds.
“Last Tuesday, our parliamentary bloc, presented a bill to the joint committees to secure financial credit to fund the elections,” said Qassem Hashem, an Amal MP, recalling that “the budget law of 2022 does not provide for such funding.”
Hasbani explained that a vote on the law proposed by the Amal Movement would require another law that permits the government to spend on the basis of the “provisional twelfth,” i.e. monthly allocations of funds based on one-twelfth of the previous year’s budget, which is used to provide temporary funding for government services until a new budget is passed.
“But the provisional twelfth cannot even be applied in this case, as it only applies to the first month of the year,” Hasbani added.
Daher explained that, in order to authorize funds for municipal elections by a “rectifying” law, “they must be covered by equivalent resources from the state, to ensure a balanced budget.”
In any case, Hasbani said he believes the Amal camp’s bill was presented “for form’s sake.”
“Even if there were a law, Amal and Hezbollah will not want the elections to take place,” he said.
During the last joint committee, “Ali Hassan Khalil and Hassan Fadlallah, Hezbollah MPs, argued that, even if a law is passed, the election could not be held,” according to Hasbani.
On Thursday, the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc issued a statement to this effect.
“We doubt that the necessary logistics for holding of municipal and mukhtar elections will be provided according to rules that would guarantee the vote’s success and security,” the statement said.
“If they [the LF and Kataeb] really want municipal elections to be held, they should pass the law and provide the funds,” MP Hashem said.
Notably, the LF and Kataeb are currently only engaging with Parliament for the election of a president.
“They make demands in broad daylight that they don’t really want to see fulfilled,” Hashem added.
Hasbani replied to these accusations: “If they [Amal and Hezbollah blocs] want the elections, they can ensure the quorum for holding a parliamentary session without counting us among the present MPs.”
To Hasbani, Amal and Hezbollah are “reluctant” to hold municipal elections because they “do not want to risk losing popularity or provoke incidents that would undermine stability in their areas.”
FPM is ‘flexible’
Meanwhile, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) appears to be lenient vis-à-vis both the LF-Kataeb and Amal-Hezbollah approaches.
“If we need to participate in a legislative session, we will do so because the elections represent an urgent democratic deadline,” FPM MP Alain Aoun told L’Orient-Le Jour.
Aoune questioned whether “the Kataeb and the LF are being consistent,” noting that “they claim they want the elections but refuse to hold a legislative session.”
He called on the cabinet to “make a decision.”
“The government must decide and grant the interior minister the means to hold the election,” he said, adding that the cabinet “has already dipped into the SDRs, including for medicines and wheat.”
“The solution lies either in using the SDRs or passing a bill annexed to the budget. We are flexible on either one,” Aoun concluded.
Lebanon receives technical and logistical support from the European Union (EU), excluding cash, offered through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in amounts to up to $2.4 million, according to a source from the EU delegation in Lebanon.
The assistance includes equipment and supplies — voting booths, indelible ink, etc. — and electoral awareness campaigns, as well as support to the Interior Ministry in updating electoral lists.
The assistance does not include payment for polling station officials or law enforcement, according to the source, considering that such operations are “sovereign.”
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.