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Rai rejects return to 1960 election law

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai heads a Muslim-Christian summit in Bkirki, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai warned Sunday that a return to the 1960 election law would threaten Lebanon’s sectarian coexistence and diversity, in the latest diatribe by the influential Maronite Church against the winner-takes-all system used in the 2009 parliamentary polls.

Rai’s remarks came as officials from both sides of the political divide bickered over which electoral law should be adopted for next year’s parliamentary polls.

Reflecting deep divisions even among Christian parties in the rival March 8 and March 14 camps, Rai said Christian lawmakers would study three proposed draft election laws and choose one that best represents everyone.

He reiterated the Maronite Church’s opposition to the 1960 election law which has also been criticized by March 14 Christian parties for failing to ensure a fair Christian representation in Parliament in previous elections.

“We did not issue a ban on this [1960] law. Rather, we said what all the Lebanese are saying publicly and secretly. We have said that no one wants the 1960 law because it was at the root of what we are in [lack of fair Christian representation] today. We have said this fact publicly,” Rai told reporters at Rafik Hariri International Airport before leaving on a visit to Hungary.

He was referring to Friday’s call by the Maronite Church for a new election law that can ensure fair Christian representation in the 2013 parliamentary elections, while rejecting the 1960 law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system.

“For the sake of Lebanon and understanding and in order to emerge from what we are in [divisions] today, we should not return to the 1960 law but find a new law that can ensure a true representation for everyone and allow citizens to elect their MPs and hold them accountable,” Rai said.

He added that the Maronite Church was seeking to bring Christian parties together so that they can reach an agreement on a new electoral law.

“We [Maronite Church] do not have an opinion on any [election] law, nor we demand any law. But we say because the 1960 law was at the root of what we are in today, and because we really want to live in diversity, unity and coexistence with mutual respect and equality without any pressure on any party, we should not return to the 1960 law,” Rai said.

Referring to Friday’s meeting of the Bkirki Committee, which includes Christian MPs from March 8 and March 14 parties and former Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud, Rai said Christian lawmakers would study three proposed draft election laws and choose one that best represents everyone.

“Maronites are in agreement and they have announced that they will discuss with their fellow parliamentarians the three draft election laws and will choose one that ensures the best representation for everyone,” Rai said.

Lebanon’s leading Christian parties are divided over the best electoral law to ensure a true Christian representation in Parliament.

MPs from the joint parliamentary committees are studying three electoral draft laws: The government’s approved draft law that would divide Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts based on a system of proportional representation; a draft law proposed by MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc that would allow every sect to elect its own MPs under a proportional representation system with Lebanon as a single district; and a proposal for small electoral districts announced by March 14 Christian lawmakers.

A fourth proposal was made by Future MP Nabil de Freij and aims at increasing the number of seats in Parliament.

Rai left Sunday for a three-day visit to Hungary where he is expected to meet Church and government officials. He will also visit Rome and participate in the Synod workshop for Archbishops headed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Lebanon’s 2009 parliamentary polls were held according to a version of the 1960 law, which many blame for inciting sectarian feelings and depriving minorities of representation.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his March 14 allies have rejected the government’s draft electoral law, saying it was designed to serve the interests of Hezbollah and its March 8 allies. Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has rejected the government’s proportional representation draft law as well as the March 14 proposal for small electoral districts, favoring the current electoral law.

Beirut MP Mohammad Qabbani from Hariri’s Future bloc said the bloc accepted the proposal for small electoral districts even though this was not its first choice. “The best [election] law is the one based on the Taif Accord, whereby each governorate is adopted as an electoral district,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

Meanwhile, Aoun warned that an electoral victory by the March 14 coalition would be fatal for the country. He said a government formed by the March 14 parties would be worse than Syria’s domination of Lebanon for nearly three decades.

“If they [March 14] reach government, that will be a fatal choice worse than what happened to us during the time of the Syrian tutelage because this time they will carry out a radical coup in the heart of the Lebanese society,” Aoun told supporters in the town of Ihmej during his tour of the northern district of Jbeil.

He accused March14 Christian parties of seeking to “dismember” the country with their proposal for small electoral districts. “I support proportional representation even if it makes us lose seven parliamentarians in four provinces. We are looking for a fair representation.”

Hezbollah’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish renewed his party’s support for the government’s proportional representation draft law, saying it can ensure the best representation. He also criticized the March 14 proposal for small electoral districts.

“This system [proportional representation], which has been adopted in all world states, takes into account the problem of diversity and gives a chance to all political parties regardless of their size to be represented in the political process.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 01, 2012, on page 1.

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