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    There Can Be No Delays

    Monday saw the debate on lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 sidelined. The parliamentary vote on the draft law to extend suffrage did not get the required two-thirds majority, with 66 MPs, mainly from the March 14 coalition, abstaining. This and other electoral reform proposals – the redrawing of the voting districts and the issue of establishing a system of proportional representation – could be used as a political tool to postpone the municipal elections, now slated for June.

    Originally scheduled to be held in May, they have already been pushed back once. For the sake of Lebanon’s democratic credentials, there must be no more delays. If we are to retain any vestige of the political gains made in 2005, the national timetable must be respected and elections held on time.

    The issues are legitimate, especially the discussion on suffrage. When global trends, especially in Europe, are driving the voting age to 16, Lebanon still languishes among the world’s least progressive nations on this matter. But progressiveness is a luxury that comes at a price, and a compromise package that will also allow expatriate votes (to ensure that any new law will not upset the sectarian balance) will in all probability need to be thrashed out. The redrawing of the electoral districts – especially in Beirut, where Prime Minister Saad Hariri looks poised to do well – is also a bone of contention.

    If, as it looks likely to, the electoral reform debate drags, it must not be used as an excuse to delay elections, especially as one feels that for many of the parties that make up the March 8 coalition, the upcoming polls are more of a nuisance than anything else. Hezbollah, by all accounts, does not want to go head to head with Amal, while Michel Aoun is nervous that his Free Patriotic Movement will not do as well in his Metn powerbase. Ditto Walid Jumblatt, who, in the Chouf, will be wary not to upset his delicate balance of power.

    We have played the delaying game before. The process to elect a president took an eternity, and although the June 2009 parliamentary ballot was held on time (and, it must be said, on one day) it too was the product of the 2008 Doha Accord and the calculations of the pro-Syrian opposition, which felt it would prevail. When it didn’t, we then had to wait five months for a new government, a period during which the election results were a mere afterthought to regional horse trading.

    What is even more worrying is Lebanon appears to be sliding back into its old ways. Delays and postponements are a legacy of the Syrian era, one that saw our institutional credibility used as a mop. Any delay in the municipal elections will be another indication that Lebanon is slipping into bad habits, further proof, if you like, that Syria is getting its feet under the desk, and that the country is once again a regional vassal rather than a beacon of democracy and genuine political reform.

    NOW Lebanon
    22.02.2010

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