BEIRUT

Lebanon News

MPs to discuss electoral law twice per week

FILE - Lebanese President Michel Sleiman answers questions during a news conference at Prague Castle in Prague March 1, 2012. (REUTERS/David W Cerny)

BEIRUT: Lawmakers discussed Thursday the broad lines of the draft election law forwarded by the government during a session of Parliament’s joint committees and decided to meet twice per week in a bid to finish discussions as soon as possible.

Separately, President Michel Sleiman said enabling expatriates to participate in the 2013 parliamentary polls does not aim at undermining existing political and sectarian balances.

“Let it be known that claiming nationality and the right to vote [by expats] is not aimed at upsetting political equations or achieving sectarian balances [in Lebanon],” Sleiman said in a televised speech, addressing participants in a ceremony in Jbeil to launch a campaign in support of the right of expatriates to participate in the 2013 parliamentary elections.

“Isn’t enabling expatriates to claim nationality and to vote among their rights and a manifestation of their decision and will to take part in managing public affairs?” Sleiman asked. “How can we demand everything from them and give them nothing in return, even this right?”

While a heated argument broke out during the session among MPs over the impact of Hezbollah’s arms on elections, most lawmakers supported a proposal by Kataeb (Phalange) Party MP Sami Gemayel to set December as a deadline to put all proposals to a vote.

But Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, who chaired the session, said such a proposal cannot become official, as deadlines cannot be imposed on Parliament.

Makari said after the session joint committees would hold a session Tuesday and another day each week in a bid to accelerate talks on the draft laws.

According to many lawmakers, talks between MPs was general, focusing on whether a proportional representation system or a winner-takes-all system was more appropriate for Lebanon. On the session’s agenda was a draft law forwarded by Cabinet which would divide Lebanon into 13-medium-sized districts under a proportional representation system and a draft law proposed by Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform Parliamentary bloc. Aoun’s proposal would allow every sect to elect its own MPs under a proportional representation system, adopting all of Lebanon as a single district.

Chouf MP Marwan Hamade raised the issue of Hezbollah’s arms, arguing that it would not be possible to implement proportional representation if the party retains its arms.

Responding to Hamade, Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar said parliamentary polls had been held before in the presence of Hezbollah’s arms, and questioned why the March 14 coalition allied with the “group of arms” in the parliamentary polls of 2005. The sound of Ammar’s voice could be heard by reporters waiting outside the meeting hall. Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat intervened, saying that until 2005, the Future Movement considered Hezbollah’s arms as those of resistance.

In 2006, Fatfat continued, Hezbollah and its allies “occupied squares,” in reference to an 18-month sit-in which the March 8 coalition launched to pressure the government of then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to resign.

After the session, Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad accused some blocs of tying controversial issues to the draft law in a bid to complicate discussions and waste time so that the current law, a version of the 1960 winner-takes-all law, is adopted.

“The strange thing is that some groups said they rejected proportional representation in the presence of arms but added there was no problem in these arms under a winner-takes-all system,” Fayyad said. He added that his group supports proportional representation and that electoral districting should take into consideration the Taif Accord, which calls for adopting governorates.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who attended the session, said MPs have “in principle” agreed on working so that a new election draft law would be endorsed by Parliament by the end of the year, which he said is necessary for him to make preparations for the polls. “I told them that the election draft law should be endorsed by Parliament by the end of this year so that I can prepare for elections to be held next year,” Charbel said.

“We have administrative, logistical and technical preparations that need to be made along with the appointment of a committee to monitor elections, preparing voting lists and measures allowing expatriates to vote,” the minister added.

Gemayel said that MPs should have set a deadline during the session for wrapping up discussion of draft election laws and putting them to a vote. “That’s why we proposed that discussions stop on Dec. 1; we will have made by then the necessary amendments ... and we will have a chance to have a new law,” he said.

Earlier, Gemayel, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan and MP Butros Harb presented their own draft election law to Parliament’s general secretariat. It has yet to be put on the session’s agenda, as MPs must be given copies of it at least 48 hours in advance. The draft law would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts, each having two or three seats under a winner-takes-all system.

Gemayel said this draft law would allow Christians to elect 56 out of their 64 MPs. “Proportional representation allows them to elect 48 MPs, that’s why we prefer small districts.”

But Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, from Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, said his group opposes the draft election law forwarded by the Christian parties of the March 14 coalition. “For our part, we announced a clear position; we do not support this draft law,” Aridi said. “At the same time, we clearly said that we do not support proportional representation that was proposed in different forms.”

Aridi, who was speaking after visiting Speaker Nabih Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence, said the PSP favored adopting the current electoral law and holding elections on time. “If there was no new election law, there is the one currently present and we can hold polls based on it,” Aridi said.

Commenting on the draft law forwarded by Christian parties in the opposition, MP Alain Aoun, from the Change and Reform bloc said: “We did not have a look on it in order to comment.”

“But this confirms two things. First, there was no agreement reached in advance on details related to small districts [by members of the Bkirki Committee] but on only the concept which we started to discuss,” Aoun said, citing the long deliberations March 14 Christian parties engaged in before forwarding their proposal.

“Second, we want to ask other blocs in the March 14 coalition, like the Future Movement, for their stance on this draft law, apart from their general position of supporting small districts.”

“Every group can carve out small districts in a way that serves his interests.”

Aoun said the fact that the opposition Christian parties forwarded their proposal without the full backing of their allies demonstrated that the proposal was a delay tactic and that some blocs were planning to stall with discussions in order to prevent groups, particularly Christian voters, from having a new election law.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 28, 2012, on page 1.

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