Lebanon News

Jumblatt: Amended 1960 law or Taif reforms

Walid Jumblatt, second left, attends the plenary session of PSP's convention in Beirut, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. (The Daily Star/Ahmad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Stepping up his rejection of a proportional vote law, MP Walid Jumblatt Sunday called for the adoption of an amended version of the disputed 1960 majoritarian system, or the creation of a senate and abolition of political confessionalism as stipulated by the 1989 Taif Accord.

Jumblatt’s remarks, likely to add further confusion and uncertainty to an already divided political landscape, come amid a mounting dispute between the rival factions over the best electoral law to replace the 1960 winner-take-all system, a row that’s threatening to throw the country into a renewed political deadlock.

They also come as Jumblatt’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc has spearheaded a vehement campaign against a controversial hybrid vote law proposal that calls for electing a part of parliamentary seats under a majoritarian system and another part under a proportional vote law. The proposal was floated by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, during meetings of a four-party committee seeking to agree on a new voting system ahead of the Feb. 21 deadline for the upcoming parliamentary polls.

In an opening speech at the Progressive Socialist Party’s 47th convention held at Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut, Jumblatt demanded that parliamentary elections, slated for May, be held on time, while stressing that Lebanon’s president must remain a Christian even if major political reforms stipulated by the Taif Accord were carried out. He pointed out that the Taif Accord made no mention at all of proportionality.

Jumblatt said that a solution to the dispute over a new vote law lies with either an amended version of the 1960 formula, or carrying out reforms mentioned in the Taif Accord. “We can with some flexibility and good intentions reach an amended version of the 1960 law, or else we go directly to the implementation of the Taif Accord, either full or gradual implementation depending on the country’s circumstances.”

He added that the Taif Accord called for a review of electoral districts and the number of governorates. “The Taif [Accord] called for the establishment of a senate in which all communities and sects are equally represented after the abolition of political confessionalism.”

Jumblatt said the country’s political system that allotted key state posts equally between Muslims and Christians along sectarian lines can be gradually or completely eliminated, while upholding essential norms, given Lebanon’s peculiarity, that the president remains a Christian.

“When political confessionalism is eliminated and when Parliament becomes a non-sectarian body, we can then study the enforcement of full proportionality or part of it which was not mentioned at all in the Taif Accord,” Jumblatt said.The Druze leader said that his parliamentary bloc, which includes MPs of various sects, was open to increase partnership with all political parties and movements “because partnership, plurality and diversity are the essence of Lebanon.”

Jumblatt avoided in his speech criticizing President Michel Aoun who vowed Friday to confront parties that are obstructing the endorsement of a new electoral law. Aoun, who has pledged not to hold the elections under the 1960 law, also threatened to put a new voting system to a popular referendum if rivals hit a deadlock over an electoral law agreement.

“We stress the necessity of partnership with the Free Patriotic Movement ... We are represented [in government] with two ministers and we have voted for President Michel Aoun. We hope that President Aoun will understand different viewpoints to reach with him and others a new electoral law,” he said.

Jumblatt is apparently worried that a proportional vote law would deprive his 11-member bloc of some parliamentary seats in the Chouf-Aley region.

In a quick response to Jumblatt’s stance, MP Ibrahim Kanaan from the FPM said the PSP leader was seeking to keep 1960 electoral law in place with minor amendments. “MP Walid Jumblatt finally expressed his vague stance on an electoral law. He wants the 1960 electoral law with some modifications,” Kanaan told Al-Jadeed TV. “We will reach a crisis, but it will soon be resolved.”

Although the Taif Accord makes no mention of either a majoritarian system or proportionality, Kanaan said, “we consider that proportionality ensures fair representation in a pluralistic society with a majority in the government and a minority in the opposition.”

Responding to Jumblatt’s call for the implementation of the Taif Accord, he said: “We are ready to implement the Taif Accord. But this must begin with an electoral law that rectifies representation and ensures actual partnership.” He reiterated the FPM’s strong opposition to the 1960 law and a new extension of Parliament’s mandate, which was extended in 2013 and 2014.

There was no word on when the four-party committee, which also includes Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from the Amal Movement, Nader Hariri, chief of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s staff, and Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad, would resume its meetings this week. The committee did not meet over the past few days because Bassil was on a visit to South Africa.

Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea called after a meeting with Beirut’s Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop Elias Audi Saturday for the endorsement of a new voting system.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Communist Party staged a demonstration in Beirut’s Riad al-Solh, demanding the approval of a non-sectarian electoral law based on proportional representation, with Lebanon declared as a single district.

Addressing the crowd, LCP Secretary-General Hanna Gharib accused officials of failure in running state affairs. “Reform and rescuing the country are not on your agenda,” Gharib said. He accused lawmakers of preparing for elections on the basis of “reactionary and sectarian laws.”

Separately, Saudi Minister of State for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan arrived in Beirut Sunday for talks with senior Lebanese officials on bilateral relations. He was welcomed at Beirut airport by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Saudi Charge d’Affaires Walid al-Bukhari.

Sabhan did not speak to reporters at the airport. He is the highest ranking Saudi official to visit Lebanon since Aoun visited Saudi Arabia and Qatar last month on a trip mainly aimed at boosting ties with Arab Gulf states and seeking to remove an advisory against Gulf citizens traveling to Lebanon.

Saudi officials have promised to renew support for Lebanon, most notably through the return of Saudi tourists to Lebanon and the resumption of investments in the country.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 06, 2017, on page 1.

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