Aoun’s party appeals for amendments to Lebanese electoral law

BEIRUT: Only 72 hours before the deadline for expatriates to register to vote in the Lebanese legislative elections currently scheduled for March 27, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement party on Wednesday filed an appeal with the Constitutional Council against the amendments to the electoral law recently approved by parliament.

On October 28, an absolute majority in parliament approved plans to change the 2017 electoral laws so that parliamentary elections could be held in March instead of May. They also scrapped its provisions for the election of six MPs to represent expats and the introduction of a biometric magnetic card that would allow voters to vote where they live rather than return to their hometowns to vote. Aoun had previously rejected these amendments. FPM members walked out of parliament in protest when they were endorsed.

In its appeal to the Constitutional Council, the president’s team argued that the decision not to allow expatriates to have their own elected representatives in parliament has “nullified a fundamental and fundamental right of a special Lebanese group”.

He added that “the modification of the deadlines is a violation of the principle of separation of powers, as the parliament is not empowered to discuss the date of the elections fixed by the executive branch, which constitutes a violation of the provisions of the Constitution” . ”

The appeal also argued that “the abolition of article 84 of the law, relating to the magnetic card, which allows the voter to vote in his place of residence, will affect the credibility and transparency of the electoral process. “.

Alain Aoun, member of the FPM, declared: “The Constitutional Council will make its decision in a month and the FPM will respect its decision”.

He also warned against “any measure which could be taken by the Minister of the Interior consisting in inviting the electoral authorities to meet before the Constitutional Council renders its decision on the appeal”.

If the Constitutional Council upholds the appeal, then the provision of six seats in parliament to represent expatriates will be reconsidered. Otherwise, Lebanese citizens living in other countries will have to vote in one of Lebanon’s 15 electoral districts.

The president opposes postponing the election because of the effect he says it will have on the campaign. He also opposes the abandonment of plans for “megacentres” of voting which would allow people to vote outside the areas where they are registered, on the grounds that this would negatively affect the participation of Christians in remote areas, who would be forced to return home. villages to vote in snowy weather and pay expensive transportation costs to do so.

The president’s call has caused some to wonder whether the move could disrupt the election, causing it to be postponed or even canceled. If the interior minister sticks to plans for a March 27 polling date, he will have to call on electoral bodies to meet before December 27. It is also possible that attempts will be made to obstruct the session of the Constitutional Council to discuss the appeal. .

Gebran Bassil, the leader of the FPM, wants to maximize the number of expats who register to vote from their country of residence. As of Wednesday, 180,000 expatriates had registered to vote at Lebanese embassies abroad. The deadline for registration is November 20.

Hadi Abul-Hassan, secretary of the Democratic Rally parliamentary bloc, raised concerns on Wednesday that personal information about expats who registered with the Foreign Ministry to vote had been leaked to a “certain movement policy that uses them for its own benefit. .”

He asked Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib “for a response regarding this information and firm measures to put an end to this farce”.

Electoral affairs expert Walid Fakhreddin told Arab News: “Some embassies abroad leaked the phone numbers of expatriates eligible to vote to the FPM so that he could communicate with them, which infuriated these expatriates , who consider that such data should have been protected. »

He said the FPM “fears losing the elections because it has lost electoral leverage provided by former allies who broke with it over their rivalries, noting that FPM’s popularity has declined internally from Lebanon”.

He added that it is “not only the FPM which fears losing the election, because there are other parties which fear losing in light of the change in public mood which has deprived them of a huge support”.

Fakhreddine said that international support and aid to Lebanon is conditional on the successful conduct of elections, which prevents ruling parties from attempting to cancel them.

“In this context, FPM’s call will not obstruct the elections,” he said. “However, when the decree ordering the convocation of the electoral bodies is presented to him, the president could try to maneuver to postpone the elections to May.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Gulf Business Councils wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs complaining that “hundreds of applications for registration of residents outside Lebanon are pending because the ministry is currently refusing to register them under visas of tourist or commercial visit”.

The group said that “many Lebanese abroad are waiting for the issuance of their official residence, which is a time-consuming process, which presents them with an obstacle that prevents them from exercising their right to vote”.

He called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “provide facilities to allow this category to participate in the elections”.

The Lebanese Business Councils include the Lebanese Executive Council, the Lebanese-Saudi Business Council, the Abu Dhabi-Lebanon Business Council, the Lebanese Business Council in Kuwait, the Lebanese Business Council in Dubai and the Northern Emirates and the Council for the Development of Economic Relations between Lebanon and the Gulf. Authority.