BEIRUT: The Cabinet is scheduled to meet in an extraordinary session Monday to resume discussion of a draft election law, sources at Baabda Palace said Friday, amid a deepening split between political parties over a new law that can best represent voters in next year’s parliamentary elections.
The continued divisions over a new electoral law and security threats posed by the repercussions of the 16-month turmoil in Syria have raised fears of a possible postponement of the 2013 elections.
Following the approval of the draft 2012 state budget earlier this month, a new electoral law is a pressing item on the agenda of the Cabinet meeting to be chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace.
“The president will ask the Cabinet to speed up discussion and approval of the draft electoral law and refer it to Parliament as soon as possible,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star. “The president wants the Cabinet to step up its meetings so that a new electoral law could be finalized soon ahead of next year’s elections.”
The Cabinet is still discussing a draft electoral law based on a system of proportional representation drafted by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel last year.
During his visit to Australia in April, Sleiman pledged to press ahead with efforts to have the government adopt an election law based on proportional representation. He also vowed to prevent a return to the 1960 election law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and was used in the 2009 round. The president said the 1960 law produced “only sectarian fragmentation” in the country.
Monday’s meeting comes amid an escalating row over a new election law on whose basis the 2013 elections will be conducted and repeated calls by the opposition March 14 coalition for the formation of a neutral government to oversee the polls.
March 14 leaders have argued that Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, which is controlled by Hezbollah and its March allies, isn’t qualified to supervise the elections as it has failed to address the country’s security, economic and administrative problems.
Emboldened by Parliament’s renewed vote of confidence, Mikati declared on April 20 that his government would stay in office to supervise next year’s elections. Mikati’s announcement was aimed at responding to calls by the opposition March 14 parties for the formation of a neutral government to supervise the elections.
Mikati urged expatriates to register their names at Lebanese embassies in order to participate in the elections, saying only a few thousand so far had done so. He said the Cabinet approved a mechanism in April to allow Lebanese in the diaspora to vote in line with a proposal by Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, although many quarters have doubted whether this would actually take place.
Speaker Nabih Berri, Mikati, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, including Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, have voiced support for an electoral law based on proportional representation.
However, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt have rejected proportional representation. Jumblatt prefers a winner-take-all system with small electoral districts.
Hariri has said the elections will be crucial for Lebanon, urging his supporters to vote the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance out of the government. He warned that the March 8 parties were seeking to bring Lebanon back under Syrian tutelage through an election law based on proportional representation.
The Future Movement has voiced opposition to proportional representation, with bigger districts as an alternative to the 1960s election law that stipulates small electoral districts.
“Some want parliamentary elections that suit the armed partisan authorities, and they promote election laws that restore regimes of tutelage and domination but with local tools this time,” Hariri said, referring to Hezbollah and its March 8 allies which are backed by Syria. “This will not pass,” he added.
Hariri, a harsh critic of Hezbollah’s arsenal, also ruled out holding discussion of a draft electoral law on proportional representation in the shadow of the party’s weapons.
For his part, Berri has warned that that the dispute over a new electoral law could lead to a postponement of the elections. “This matter [postponement] is not in the country’s interest,” Berri told Al-Joumhouria newspaper in April.
However, Berri’s warning drew swift responses from Sleiman and Mikati, who said that the elections should be held on time, come what may.
A similar point was made by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who said the elections should be held on time, accusing the Hezbollah-led March 8 parties of seeking to thwart the polls.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has voiced his party’s support for proportional representation. He called for the parliamentary elections to be held on time despite differences between the March 8 and March 14 parties on a new electoral law.