Lebanon News

Parliament joint committee defers electoral law to May 26

Deputy Speaker Farid Makari chairing the Parliament's joint committees meeting, Thursday, May 19, 2016. (The Daily Star/Parliament, HO)

BEIRUT: The Parliament's joint committee Thursday adjourned discussions on the country' electoral law to next week over sharp differences between rivals, as parties remained adamant on their positions.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and resigned Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi skipped a May 9 session which was adjourned due to their absence.

Faten Younes, the director general of political and refugee affairs in the Interior Ministry, represented Machnouk at Thursday's session, held at Parliament.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige and Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil were present at the third meeting this month, which was chaired by deputy Speaker Farid Makari.

It was also attended by Kataeb chief MP Sami Gemayel.

The session comes one day after Speaker Nabih Berri offered an initiative to hold legislative polls before the election of a president, thus shortening the Parliament's mandate which was extended in 2013 and again in 2014 by most MPs.

During a press conference after the meeting, Gemayel reaffirmed his complete rejection of the 1960 majoritarian system in any form, where the country's constituencies are based on existing administrative districts.

It was used in the last polls back in 2009.

"The 1960 law brings incompetent MPs to Parliament, who then fail to carry out their duties and do not attend sessions. There are even some people who buy their seats in Parliament," Gemayel said, adding that attendees have agreed to hold two sessions a week instead of one.

Gemayel said he and opponents of the 1960 law will do everything possible to find a replacement, adding that some of those who were previously against the system were now in support of it "for certain benefits."

Makari, who spoke after Gemayel, said that the session was adjourned after disagreements began to surface between rivals in the meeting.

He said there was talk about raising the number of MPs to represent the Lebanese diaspora.

Bassil, also head of the Free Patriotic Movement, echoed Makari's remarks, stressing that the Lebanese expats should be represented by six MPs-one for each continent-as "they (diaspora) have the right to take part in the polls and have a real representation." He also called for the adoption of an e-voting system.

Lebanese Forces deputy chief George Adwan told reporters in a his briefing after the session that "any attempt to return to the 1960 [voting] system topples all attempts to adopt the best representation for the Lebanese," urging people to revoke such attempts.

"This will only ensure the election of the same Parliament," he added.

"I call on the Lebanese and the civil society to pressure [politicians] to guarantee change."

Future MP Ahmad Fatfat said that Friday's discussion witnessed progress after the committee decided to limit discussions to two draft laws.

The first presented by Berri adopts a hybrid electoral law whereby 64 MPs would be elected on the basis of proportional representation and the remaining 64 on a winner-take-all system.

The second is the one backed by the Future, LF and Progressive Socialist Party whereby 60 MPs would be elected on the basis of proportional representation, and the remaining 68 MPs on a winner-take-all system.

"We cannot adopt a proportional system. It should be a hybrid law," Fatfat said.

Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan said in his statement that "the people are the source of democracy... we want an electoral law that ensures a fair representation."

Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad defended a proportional representation system, saying it would create a centrist bloc between the two main camps- March 8 and March 14- and correct political representation in Parliament.

"Those who refuse to have a system based on proportionality are against political reform in this country ... If we truly wanted to reach a compromise, why can't we reach a (hybrid) law where 64 MPs are brought in based on a majoritarian system and 64 are elected based on proportionality?" he asked during the press conference, in reference to Berri's proposal.

The FPM's Alain Aoun voiced pessimism over producing a new voting system "in the current situation," saying that the committee was now just "killing time."

He said the 1960 law was currently the most favored.

"If we had to choose between extending Parliament's mandate again or holding elections based on the current (1960) law, then we would rather hold the elections with all its flaws," he said.

FPM MP Neamatallah Abi Nasr said Christians should not have to pay the price of voting under a winner-takes-all system just because they are spread out across Lebanon.

The FPM and other Christian officials have argued that the 1960 law devalues Christian votes in some of the country's districts where Christians are a minority.

Last month, Berri said he would not call for a parliamentary session before joint parliamentary committees complete their discussions over a new electoral law to replace the 1960 law.

During the first session, rival MPs agreed to limit discussions of a new law to three categories: A hybrid law, which includes a proportional voting system as well as the present winner-take-all system, a law based on proportional representation and a law based on Lebanon as a single constituency.

The joint committees agreed in the first meeting to choose four different proposals of the 17 draft laws available to present to Parliament’s general assembly for a vote.

The session was adjourned to May 26.





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