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Harb: March 8 against expatriate voting over campaign constraints

Electoral law. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website/HO)

BEIRUT: The March 8 coalition opposes the right of expatriates to vote in next year’s parliamentary elections as Hezbollah cannot campaign in countries where it is considered a terrorist organization, MP Butros Harb said in a statement Thursday.

“Discussions that took place between Hezbollah [MPs], some of its allies and a representative of Foreign Minister [Adnan Mansour] in today’s session showed these groups are not excited about expatriates taking part in polls,” he added after attending a meeting of Parliament’s joint committees.

The March 14 lawmaker said the March 8 coalition argued that some of its members were prohibited from campaigning or entering states who have labeled them terrorist groups. “These positions are a glaring violation of the right of the Lebanese to take part in political life and in making decisions that concern the future and sovereignty of Lebanon,” Harb added. “It is ... an unacceptable position.”

Harb said this stance explains the Foreign Ministry’s neglect in implementing a mechanism to enable expatriates to vote.

Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said his party supports the right of expatriates to vote, but he argued that elections cannot take place in countries where major Lebanese political groups are deprived of their right to campaign.

“We stress the right of expatriates to vote but we said it is necessary to take into consideration that the Constitution ... stipulates that all Lebanese are equal in terms of rights and duties,” he told reporters after the session.

“It is not possible that elections be held in countries where there is discrimination [against certain Lebanese political groups] and a lack of equal opportunities among Lebanese because this contradicts the Constitution,” Fayyad continued.

He said that the results of elections held in these countries could be challenged before the Constitutional Council and also noted that any new election law should enable Christian voters to have a bigger say in electing their MPs. “We support whatever our allies in the Free Patriotic Movement choose,” he added. Hezbollah is blacklisted as a terrorist group in several countries, including the United States.

For his part, Metn MP Ibrahim Kanaan maintained that the right of expatriates to vote was already endorsed by Parliament in 2009.

He said he proposed during the session that the Interior and Foreign ministries present to the joint committees a detailed report on progress made in laying down a mechanism to allow expat voting. Speaking to reporters after the session, Deputy-Speaker Farid Makari, who chaired the session, said that MPs agreed to ask the two ministers to do so.

The session lasted for over two hours and joint committees will reconvene next Thursday to continue studying a draft vote law forwarded by Cabinet.

The makeup of a parliamentary subcommittee that will study two controversial articles in that draft law became the newest subject of disagreement in a series of sessions that have been dominated by bickering.

Makari proposed that the subcommittee have 10 members, but MP Ghazi Zeaiter said such a committee would be unbalanced, as five MPs would represent the March 14 coalition while only four would represent rivals in the March 8 alliance. The 10th member would represent Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party.

Some lawmakers objected to the fact that the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Tashnag parties would not be represented.

MPs then agreed that the March 14 and March 8 coalitions would each have 4 MPs representing them in the subcommittee along with a PSP representative and Makari, the chair of the subcommittee.

Once that was settled, the MPs said they needed to refer to their leaderships to select lawmakers and said they would present the names in the next session.

The PSP and the Democratic Gathering blocs nominated MP Akram Shehayeb to represent them.

The subcommittee is responsible for reaching out to various political groups in order to formulate an agreement on two divisive articles in the draft law.

The articles concern electoral districts and the electoral system. The proposal would divide Lebanon into 13-mediumsized districts and introduce proportional representation.

The March 14 coalition argues that proportional representation cannot be implemented as long as Hezbollah has its arms and supports a draft law proposed by the Christian parties of the coalition which would divide the country into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system.

Many MPs from rival groups said the subcommittee had no actual authority to make decisions, voicing their belief that an agreement on the two divisive articles requires political consensus outside Parliament among parties.

Kataeb (Phalange) Party MP Sami Gemayel came out against even the formation of the subcommittee. “We want a law made in Parliament ... by Lebanese MPs [in the joint committees] ... that’s why we hope ... that we don’t go to subcommittees,” Gemayel said.

MPs then moved to third article of the draft law, which specifies how residents and expatriates would vote.

“Around 10 mechanisms to enable expatriates to vote were proposed, so we postponed looking into this until Thursday’s session,” Future Movement MP Ziad Qaderi said, describing the talks as “meaningless.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 05, 2012, on page 3.

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