BEIRUT: A four-party committee struggling to agree on a new voting system came under fire Monday by MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc and the Kataeb Party, which accused it of seeking to eliminate other parties with its hybrid proposals, casting doubts about attempts to forge an electoral law ahead of the Feb. 21 deadline for the upcoming parliamentary polls.
The committee, comprising Free Patriotic Movement leader and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from the Amal Movement, Nader Hariri, chief of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s staff, and MP Ali Fayyad from Hezbollah, will hold a new round of talks at the Finance Ministry Tuesday.
It's the committee’s third meeting since last week, focusing its deliberations on a hybrid law that blends provisions from the proportional and majoritarian systems to replace the disputed 1960 winner-take-all system used in the last parliamentary elections in 2009.
A delegation from Jumblatt’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc, which has been touring top political leaders to discuss a new voting system, questioned the committee’s right to decide on its own crucial issues such as an electoral law.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with Kataeb Party leader MP Sami Gemayel at the party’s headquarters in Beirut’s Saifi neighborhood, MP Akram Chehayeb reiterated the Progressive Socialist Party’s rejection of a proportional vote law.
“We say today that circumstances are not conducive for proportionality. We consider what we are hearing and reading as a biased project that has nothing to do with balance, unified standards or true representation. It entails a tone of arrogance and some desire, if they could, for cancellation,” Chehayeb said, clearing referring to the hybrid vote law being pondered by the quadripartite committee. “We are seeking today [to achieve] balance, meeting together and joint action to reach an electoral law that satisfies everyone and does not minimize or cancel any side.”
He added that the PSP had always been in “full partnership” with all sides in the mainly-Druze Chouf and Aley areas. “If there is an [electoral] law being drafted today, we are out of the discussions and we will not accept it,” Chehayeb said in the PSP’s clearest rejection of a hybrid vote system.
“We support partnership but partnership cannot be attained by excluding more than one party from the quadripartite committee,” he said. “Who gave this quadripartite committee the right to control all decisions in Lebanon? There are wide groups of the Lebanese people who are represented in Parliament and the government and exist in Lebanese political life.”Committee members could not be reached for comment on the outcome of their discussions. But Bassil said in a TV interview Sunday evening that the committee was pondering a hybrid law formula that calls for electing a part of parliamentary seats under a majoritarian system and another part under a proportional vote law.
He also disclosed that the conferees had agreed on the need to reach an agreement on a new electoral law before Feb. 15, less than a week before Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk is obligated by the Constitution to call on electoral bodies to prepare for elections scheduled for May.
For his part, Gemayel called for the adoption of an electoral law that ensures “true representation, genuine partnership, plurality and democracy needed in these circumstances so that each party can be represented in Parliament according to the size of his popular base.”
“Reformists and change-makers have a place in Parliament. Representation must not be confined to the governing body. The governing body must not tailor a [vote] law to suit its size with the aim of excluding the other parties that are not in power,” Gemayel said. “I hope we will continue dialogue with the PSP and all parties to reach an objective and fair law with a unified standard.”
Gemayel later met with Speaker Nabih Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence, discussing with him the ongoing consultations over a new electoral law.
Another delegation from Jumblatt’s bloc led by Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh also met with Berri for the same purpose. The delegation has also met with President Michel Aoun, Hariri, Hezbollah’s bloc to convey the bloc’s concerns over a proportional vote law.
The stepped up political activity aimed at reaching an agreement on a new voting system came in the wake of Aoun’s strong warning against attempts to extend Parliament’s mandate or hold the elections under the 1960 law.
The president warned during a Cabinet session last week that he would prefer a vacuum in the legislative body over a new extension of Parliament’s mandate, sending the strongest signal yet concerning his opposition to the 1960 sectarian-based law that divides Lebanon into small- and medium-sized constituencies.
Aoun, who has vowed to hold the elections under a new system, also rejected Machnouk’s off-agenda demands during the Cabinet meeting for the formation of a 10-member commission to oversee the elections before an agreement is reached on a new vote law.
Lebanese parties are divided over adopting a proportional electoral law or a hybrid law that include aspects of the proportional and the 1960 winner-take-all systems. The FPM, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah have been pressing for conducting the elections under a full proportional vote system.
However, Jumblatt has since backed down on his support of this model and rejected a hybrid vote law based on proportional representation, while renewing his support for the majoritarian system.
Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said a hybrid vote law was the best formula in “this transitional stage.”
“Any law will entail negative aspects for some and positive aspects for others,” Houri told the Voice of Lebanon radio station (93.3). “Discussions currently center on the distribution of provinces and the number of districts. No final decision has been made yet,” he said.
However another Future MP, Minister of State for Women’s Affairs Jean Ogasapian, sounded pessimistic about agreeing on a new electoral law soon. “Matters over an electoral law have returned back to square one ... All experiments have confirmed that there is a difficulty and even impossibility to reach a law that satisfies all the parties,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station (100.5).
Speaking to the same radio station, MP Alain Aoun from the FPM said that if the hybrid formula being floated by the quadripartite committee failed this time to break the deadlock over a vote law, “this means we are back to square one and we must search for a new formula.”