Lebanon News

Bickering reigns as MPs set to address draft election law

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel shares a laugh with lawmakers. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Parliament’s Joint Committees are set to address the government’s draft election law in detail Thursday after three sessions of bickering over the broad outlines, but there are already disputes over which article to start with.

Speaking to reporters after chairing a Joint Committees session Tuesday, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari said that MPs are divided over whether to start with discussing two controversial articles or move to other articles and put the divisive articles to a vote in the General Assembly. The articles discuss whether elections would be held based on a proportional representation system or a winner-takes-all system as well as the size of the districts.

Makari said he would discuss with Speaker Nabih Berri a proposal by MPs to form a parliamentary subcommittee representing all groups to study those two articles, while allowing the Joint Committees to proceed with other articles. The other option would be to start by discussing the divisive issues first, continued Makari.

“Attendees unanimously agreed that political consensus is essential to having an electoral law representing all Lebanese, no matter how discussions drag on,” he added.

The Cabinet’s proposal would divide Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts based on proportional representation. Also on the agenda is a draft law forwarded by the Christian parties of the opposition that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all-system.

Another forwarded draft law is that of Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, whereby every sect elects its own MPs, under a proportional representation system and with the adoption of Lebanon as a single district. It is similar to a draft law proposed by the Orthodox Gathering.

The Cabinet’s draft law has been rejected by the March 14 coalition, which argues that it was designed to serve the interests of Hezbollah.

In a repeat of last week’s session, MPs bickered over which electoral system – proportional representation or a winner-takes-all system – is appropriate for the country.

Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi asked how the March 14 coalition could reject proportional representation when Joseph Abu Khalil, a veteran Kataeb official, has long advocated for the system.

Meanwhile, a heated argument broke out between Future MP Ahmad Fatfat, Hezbollah lawmaker Ali Fayyad and Amal MP Hani Qobeissi over Hezbollah’s arms. Fatfat said that proportional representation cannot be implemented as long as Hezbollah maintains its arms.

Hitting back, Fayyad accused the Future Movement of eliminating its rivals in the north and Beirut, citing the armed attack in May against the pro-Hezbollah group of Shaker Berjawi in the Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood in Beirut, a stronghold of the Future Movement.

But Fatfat argued that the rivals of the Future Movement in Akkar, where the movement holds sway, received more votes in the 2009 parliamentary elections than the rivals of Hezbollah in the south.

Speaking to reporters after the session, Fatfat said that a winner-takes-all system acts as a counterweight against Hezbollah’s arms.

He said his movement has called on the Lebanese Army to disarm all groups in Akkar, Tripoli and across Lebanon, responding to accusations by Hezbollah MPs that armed groups in the north affect the results of elections.

Fatfat said that the articles on electoral system and district size should be left to the General Assembly – as the decisions require consensus – and that discussions begin with other articles.

But Fayyad insisted that the controversial articles should be addressed first, arguing that the government’s proposal “makes Shiite voters and candidate victims ... and treats them as a 10th degree citizens.”

“All single Shiite seats were put in districts of [non-Shiite] majorities and districting took place at the expense of these seats,” he added.

Meanwhile, Baabda MP Hekmat Dib, from Aoun’s bloc, said that any election law that provides fair representation for Christians would strip the Future Movement and Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party of the 27 Christian MPs who are mostly elected by Sunni and Druze voters.

He wondered how the Christian parties of the opposition could argue that their draft law, which they say provides a fairer representation for Christians, is supported by the Future Movement: “This is a lie.”

Some MPs expressed their irritation with the repetitive discussions. “Have you read Scheherazade stories? They are very similar,” MP Yassin Jaber told The Daily Star.

Others left to pay condolences to MP Alain Aoun, whose uncle passed away. “Come Hekmat, let us go pay condolences so that we have more voters,” MP Emile Rahme joked to Dib.

Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel said that discussions centered mainly on whether the draft law proposed by the Orthodox Gathering was constitutional.

“We believe that the proposal of the Orthodox Gathering implements the Constitution while others believe the contrary,” Gemayel said.

“Some believe that implementing proportional representation without every sect electing its MPs [as proposed by the Orthodox Gathering] achieves fair representation, but for us it does not achieve actual parity,” he continued. “If we want to adopt proportional representation, then it should be based on the proposal of the Orthodox Gathering.”

But Fatfat, Gemayel’s ally in the March 14 coalition, said that the Future Movement opposes that proposal because it contradicts Article 27 of the Constitution which stipulates that an MP represents the entire country. “Would it be possible for Maronites of Dinnieh not to elect Ahmad Fatfat?” he asked.

The Future parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri expressed its support for a draft election law that would divide Lebanon into small districts, in reference to that of the March 14 Christian parties.

“The bloc considers that it is maybe necessary, as an exceptional measure in this phase, to endorse a draft law that would take into consideration the concerns of some groups in the country through adopting small districts,” said a statement by the bloc following its weekly meeting at Hariri’s Downtown residence.

“This should not create new concerns among new groups, as the election law should provide proper political representation based on parity [between Muslims and Christians],” added the bloc.

Separately, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said after meeting Berri that the speaker was keen on adopting an electoral law that was in line with the Taif Accord and guaranteed the best representation for sects.

He added that he was against any proposal that violates the Taif Accord, which stipulates that a governorate should be the electoral district. “I think proportional representation is the best suited for Lebanon in the short and long run,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2012, on page 1.




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