BEIRUT: The Cabinet approved Tuesday a controversial electoral draft law based on a system of proportional representation that divides Lebanon into 13 districts in next year’s parliamentary elections.
However, the Cabinet decision, which was opposed by three ministers allied with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, quickly came under fire by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who said that the draft law was directed against the majority of Lebanese and vowed to block its endorsement in Parliament.
“The least that can be said about this draft law is that it is directed against more than half of the Lebanese. Let it be clear from the beginning that this draft law is unacceptable and will not pass,” Hariri, head of the opposition parliamentary Future bloc, said in a statement released by his office.
“The government presented a draft law made to suit Hezbollah and its allies, whether through proportionality or through the division of constituencies,” he said.
“If approved in Parliament, the [draft] law will fully hand over the political and national decision-making to the group that holds the government’s decision-making today [Hezbollah].”
The decision was taken during a Cabinet session chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace. It was the third Cabinet meeting designed to draw up a draft electoral law based on proportional representation drafted by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.
Under the Cabinet decision, the electoral districts were divided as follows: two for Beirut, two for south Lebanon, three for the Bekaa, three for north Lebanon and three for Mount Lebanon.
Aside from the introduction of proportional representation, the draft electoral law includes several key reforms, including a quota for female participation and the creation of an independent body to oversee elections. The law gives the right of women to have at least one female candidate on each list.
Sources told The Daily Star that the new election law was approved in a vote by the majority of ministers. Those who objected to the proposed law were Jumblatt’s three ministers as well as State Minister Ali Qanso.
Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who belongs to Jumblatt’s bloc, said the bloc’s ministers ultimately decided not to engage in a debate over the details concerning the districts.
Abu Faour recalled that the PSP’s ministers have always been against a draft law based on proportional representation.
“The debate was not over reforms at all ... It was a debate of interests and spheres of influence,” he told reporters after the Cabinet meeting in his capacity as acting information minister.
“We must look at the country as a whole,” Abu Faour said, implying that the PSP would put national interests above its own.
However, Abu Faour signaled that the Cabinet’s approved draft law would encounter difficulties before its approval by Parliament. “Much water will flow before this law is approved,” he said.
Asked whether Qanso joined the PSP ministers in opposing the draft law, Abu Faour said that the state minister, who belongs to the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc, wanted Lebanon as a single electoral district.
The PSP was the only bloc in the Cabinet that rejected proportional representation when Charbel unveiled his draft electoral law last year. Jumblatt argued that enacting such a system is aimed at curbing his influence in the Chouf mountains.
Meanwhile, parliamentary sources said Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati are the main beneficiaries of the new election law.
However, the sources said that the approval of an election law without ensuring consensus of all political parties in Lebanon would threaten national unity and could affect political stability and security in the country.
Christian parliamentary sources that participated in a committee formed by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai to draft a new election law said that its proposal shared similarities with the Cabinet’s approved version, but contained amendments in some districts in Mount Lebanon.
The sources did not rule out a minor amendment to the 1960 election law if all the major political parties showed the will and determination not to scuttle the 2013 elections.
Sleiman, who supports proportional representation, has vowed to prevent a return to the 1960 election law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and which was used in the 2009 round. Speaker Nabih Berri, Mikati, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, including Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, have also voiced their support for proportional representation.
However, Hariri and Jumblatt have rejected proportional representation, with Jumblatt preferring a winner-take-all system with small electoral districts.
In his statement Tuesday, Hariri said he had a long phone conversation with Sleiman on the Cabinet’s decision. “I expressed my total rejection of the ‘smuggling’ of the draft law through a government which, he well knows, represents less than half of the Lebanese people,” he said.
“I hold the president accountable for what happened and its political implications, along with the prime minister who is also responsible for this heresy against democracy and the groups he claims to represent,” Hariri added.
Aoun expressed relief over the Cabinet’s decision. “The principle of proportionality, whose slogan we have raised, won today. The approval of a draft election law with 13 districts has been the demand of all [Maronite leaders] who met in Bkirki,” Aoun said after a meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc.