BEIRUT: Although his Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc is likely to see the number of its MPs relatively reduced in next month’s elections, Prime Minister Saad Hariri will be the firm favorite to form Lebanon’s next government, ministerial sources said Monday. “Given the nature of the new electoral law, the Future bloc is expected to lose seven MPs in the upcoming elections,” a ministerial source familiar with the electoral process told The Daily Star.
“The new government will be formed three months after the elections at the latest because the country cannot endure any delay or stalling [in Cabinet formation]. Hariri will be reappointed prime minister because there is no other choice,” the source said.
The Future bloc is currently the largest in Parliament with 32 MPs.
Lebanon is set to hold its first parliamentary elections in nine years on May 6 under a new voting system based on proportional representation, dividing Lebanon into 15 districts and adding preferential voting.
The ministerial source said that President Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, which currently has 19 MPs and is headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, would emerge from the elections with sufficient parliamentary seats that would ultimately make it the “tipping point” in the 128-member legislature.
Likewise, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and their allies would gain enough parliamentary seats to enable them to have a veto power in Parliament, the source added.
The source dismissed security fears that might derail holding the polls, saying that the election results, including the expatriates’ votes, would be announced at midnight on voting day.
With 19 days to go until the vote, the electoral battle is already heating up, with rival parties staging rallies to plead with their supporters to vote in high numbers.
Meanwhile, Aoun has canceled a trip to Qatar scheduled for Monday to attend the official opening of Qatar’s National Library.
A presidential source told The Daily Star that Aoun’s Qatar visit was canceled due to “new circumstances” and “developments that forced him to return to Lebanon.”
Aoun has asked Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury to represent him at the event in Qatar, a statement released by the president’s media office in Baabda Palace said. Aoun flew back to Beirut Sunday night after attending the 29th Arab Summit held in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran.
Speaking to journalists on his flight back to Beirut from Saudi Arabia, Aoun said his meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud in the presence of Hariri and Bassil on the sidelines of the summit was “positive and excellent.”
“Every meeting with the king is fruitful and is considered as a meeting of friendship. The Saudi monarch expressed his permanent love for Lebanon,” Aoun said. He added that King Salman told him that Saudi and other Gulf citizens would definitely return to Lebanon for the summer vacation.
Citing security concerns, Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states have advised their citizens against traveling to Lebanon.
Aoun said King Salman had assured him that the kingdom would stand by Lebanon and support its efforts toward advancement.
The president expressed relief regarding the general situation in Lebanon, “despite difficulties,” noting that it had succeeded in maintaining security and stability “in a region that is on the boil.”
Commenting on the elections, the president said: “We have preceded developed countries in adopting a modern vote law. What makes the current law different is that voting will be for the political line, rather than for persons.”
Asked to comment on a proposed general amnesty for those imprisoned for various crimes, Aoun said, “I will not sign any general amnesty [decree] that will benefit those involved in the killing of soldiers.”
He was apparently referring to Islamist militants who fought the Lebanese Army in the northern city of Tripoli and the northeastern town of Arsal.
Earlier Monday, Speaker Nabih Berri said he would postpone discussion of the proposed general amnesty for those incarcerated for or suspected of various crimes until after the elections.
In a televised interview, Berri vowed to “call for a plenary session of Parliament immediately after the elections,” in which he would raise the issue of the general amnesty.
The amnesty is widely expected to rescind tens of thousands of outstanding arrest warrants for alleged Islamists, as well as those accused of petty and drug-related crimes and those suspected of collaborating with Israel during its occupation of southern Lebanon. The decree is also expected to release scores of people currently imprisoned for those crimes.
Justice Minister Salim Jreissati concurred with Berri that any measures to pass and implement the amnesty would occur after the elections.
“The general amnesty is entirely outside political polarization related to the elections. This issue is not an electoral commodity, but a major political decision to be made unanimously by politicians,” Jreissati, who belongs to the Free Patriotic Movement, said after meeting Berri at the speaker’s summer residence in the southern town of Msayleh.
“So far, there are no urgent bills relating to the general amnesty. But at the right time, the Justice Ministry will be ready to draft a general amnesty bill. Therefore, when there is political unanimity, the ministry will present the bill to the Cabinet and later it will be referred to Parliament for ratification,” Jreissati added. “We see that this must happen after the parliamentary elections.”
Berri and Jreissati’s comments came one month after Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk announced that the first draft of the proposed amnesty had been completed, with a final version to come “very soon.”
Machnouk issued memos Monday designating polling stations in all Lebanese regions and also announcing that trucks would be banned on roads around voting time, according to a statement released by his media office.
A memo said that trucks will not be allowed on roads across the country starting from noon on May 4 until 9 a.m. on May 7.
The memo exempted vehicles of the Army, Civil Defense, Lebanese Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as trucks carrying trash, flour, medical equipment for hospitals and diesel for Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, from the ban. Machnouk also requested that construction works be halted from May 4-6.