Cabinet forms ministerial committee to draft new electoral law proposal

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Cabinet formed Monday a ministerial committee tasked with the formulation of a new parliamentary electoral system proposal in the hope of breaking a months-long political deadlock that threatens to plunge the country into a constitutional vacuum.

The committee, which will be headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, will convene Tuesday at the Grand Serail, Information Minister Melhem Riachi told reporters following a Cabinet session chaired by President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace.

Aoun, who had earlier vowed to use his prerogatives to block elections under the current parliamentary electoral law, told ministers at the beginning of the session that “there will be no political vacuum in Parliament” but didn’t elaborate further.

Lebanon’s Constitution ensures continuity of the executive branch in the event of a presidential vacuum or the resignation of a Cabinet. Under the first scenario, the president’s powers are passed to the Cabinet while in the second case, a resigned Cabinet continues to function in caretaker mode pending the formation of a new one. However, the Constitution lacks clarity when it comes to the fate of the legislative branch in the event that parliament’s term expires and the government fails to organize elections.

Parties from across the political spectrum have repeatedly stressed over the past few months that upcoming elections should take place under a new law but signs of a breakthrough in the ongoing negotiations have yet to emerge.

Aoun said Monday the Cabinet’s meetings would be open-ended until an agreement over a new electoral law is reached.

The current law, which originally dates back to 1960, was amended and adopted in 2008 as part of a comprehensive deal struck in Doha. The Doha Accord ended an 18-month political feud that had exploded on May 7, 2008 into deadly sectarian fighting, between Shiite Hezbollah gunmen and Sunni pro-Future Movement supporters, threatening to plunge Lebanon into all-out chaos.

The government has already adjourned parliamentary elections twice, citing security concerns linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria. In 2013, lawmakers voted to extend parliament’s term by 17 months and then voted again in 2014 to extend their tenure an additional two years and seven months.

When asked about the time it would take the newly formed ministerial committee to complete its work, Riachi said it could be as short as two days but added that “anything is possible.”