Lebanon News

Is the Orthodox gathering set to anchor sectarianism?

The secretary-general of the newly established, “Orthodox Gathering,” Michel Tueni (second left) stands next to Deputy Prime Minister Samir Mouqbel and Father Wadih Chalhoub (far right), who receive visitors during the inauguration of the gathering’s new headquarters in Ashrafieh.

In principle, all Lebanese political forces agree that the country’s much-sought-after political reform should come through the ratification of a fair and balanced electoral law. This law would ensure a healthy popular representation for the different Lebanese factions, guaranteeing that representation in Parliament is active and effective.

But the best means to reach this aim are debatable. There are currently two potential electoral laws that seem to be interesting officials. These are proportional representation and the proposal suggested by the Orthodox gathering, in which each sect elects its own representatives.

In the proposal submitted by the Orthodox gathering, each sect elects its own MPs. While President Michel Sleiman and other Maronite leaders are inclined to proportional representation, because they consider it the best method to form a Parliament that reflects popular opinion, the Orthodox proposal has won the enthusiasm of a follow-up committee appointed by the Maronite Church to discuss electoral law.

According to information made available to The Daily Star, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and some of the Maronite bishops approve of the Orthodox formula. They see it as a way to avoid the results that occur when figures who are not representative of the majority of Christians are elected because they are part of lists that garner the majority of overall votes.

According to Bkirki, this suggested law would preserve the unity and effectiveness of Parliament, and ensures fair representation for all sects. It will be done over two phases and would entail the division of Lebanon into several districts before elections.

The debate about the 2013 parliamentary elections is under way in the Christian community, and the Orthodox sect in particular, after the regular meetings of the Orthodox gathering tackled electoral law and drew the attention of others in the Christian community.

While some say that the Orthodox gathering’s draft is an improved version of the draft law submitted by the Boutros Commission, others argue that the meetings are purely sectarian and will not lead to a fair electoral law.

Some Orthodox figures, such as Syrian Social Nationalist Party MP Marwan Fares, criticized the head of the Orthodox gathering, former Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli, for convening such meetings.

Leading Orthodox figures such as the former head of the Fund for the Displaced Chadi Masaad, an attendee of the gathering’s first meeting, have criticized the gathering for driving the Orthodox community away from its historical position. He considers the Orthodox to historically have been concerned with national and Arab problems, and thinks they should not be drawn into narrower matters.

Masaad slams the Orthodox gathering’s proposal, saying it brings back memories of the period that preceded the Civil War, while it should look to the future and to the aspirations and hopes of the country’s youth.

Masaad says that the role of the Christians would be bolstered through real national partnership with Muslims, rather than through segregation and isolation. He adds that flaws in public administration will not be solved through isolation, or the generation of a sectarian electoral law.

Sources close to Interior Minister Marwan Charbel refused to comment on the draft presented by the Orthodox gathering, adding that he was working toward an electoral law that seeks to promote Lebanon’s diversity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 25, 2011, on page 2.




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