BEIRUT // Last October, Lebanese politicians finally elected a new president to end a two-and-a-half-year power vacuum that had crippled the functioning of the government.
But just over six months later, Lebanon is drifting into yet another political crisis that could leave the country without a functioning parliament.
The parliament’s term expires on June 20, and it is extremely unlikely that an election will be held before then. The members of parliament were elected in 2009 for a four-year term but have extended their mandate twice, citing instability caused by the Syrian civil war and later the country’s lack of a president.
Last month they attempted to extend their term once again, saying they had failed to agree on new legislation under which to conduct elections. But Lebanese president Michel Aoun suspended parliamentary sessions and gave MPs one month to focus on reaching a compromise.
That deadline passed on May 15 without any agreement and with politicians as divided as ever. The parliament speaker Nabih Berri extended the deadline by two weeks to May 29, but it is uncertain whether this will yield any results. In any case it will be nearly impossible to hold elections within just a few weeks of an agreement.
The issue at the heart of the impasse – the voting law – is a complicated one.
Lebanon’s last election was held under what is known as the "1960s voting law" that granted different sectarian groups parliamentary seats in each district based on a quota, although the candidates are elected by all the voters in a district, regardless of sect. Due to population shifts and the absence of a census since 1932, some say the existing quotas do not accurately represent the sectarian make-up of districts today. Others are critical of how the system allows a dominant sect in a district to decide the winner of a seat reserved for another community – an extremely controversial matter in a country where all of the major political parties are based on sectarian identities.
While there is universal agreement that the current law is unfair, all the alternatives proposed by rival parties so far would probably lead to major shifts of power in parliament, making agreement on any of them nearly impossible.