Back in 2013, Parliament extended its own mandate in part to allow it more time to agree on a fair and representative electoral law. Instead of spending four years working toward this goal, the legislature did very little with the four extra years in office it granted itself. From the second the ink dried on Parliament’s second term extension (remember, the four years were granted in two chunks), it was clear a new law needed to be agreed prior to February 21, 2017– the date on which the current law says voters must be welcomed to the polls scheduled for May 21.
Missing that deadline is inexcusable. When President Michel Aoun assumed office in late October 2016, it was clear the government formed as a result of his election would be short-lived, with a very narrow mandate: choosing a new electoral law. Instead of immediately getting to work on agreeing to a more fair and representative electoral law during cabinet sessions, this debate has been held in secret among political parties. While some of the work cabinet and Parliament have done since December is important and helps build confidence (such as passing the oil and gas decrees and legislating the right to information), political life in this country is once again seemingly grinding to a halt, evidenced by deadlock over not only a new electoral law, but over the country’s first budget in more than 10 years.
At the moment our economy needs confidence more than anything. Even if the political class had passed a “reformed” electoral law, there is no doubt it would have been fine-tuned to best serve the parties in power. So while we defend and still hope for the actual implementation of the constitution (including elections free of sectarian quotas and creation of a Senate), we realize getting there will be a slow process. In the immediate term, we simply need the government to meet the minimum requirement of holding parliamentary elections as soon as practicable.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri recently set April 17 as a new deadline by which a decision on an electoral law must be made. Our politicians cannot miss another deadline. We want the process of drafting a new electoral law to be transparent. We want that law to be fair and representative. We are, however, realistic and reluctantly accept that reform might not materialize this year. No matter which law is used, we demand elections in 2017. We’ve waited long enough.