BEIRUT: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel Friday accused lawmakers from both sides of the political divide of wasting time in their discussion of a new election law by deviating from the main topic on the agenda: the government’s draft law based on a system of proportional representation.
“The joint parliamentary committees have so far held four sessions without achieving any result on a new election law,” Charbel told The Daily Star. “The committees are wasting time because they are departing from the main topic under discussion: The government’s draft electoral law.”
The government’s draft law, which would divide Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts based on proportional representation, has been rejected outright by the opposition March 14 coalition, which argues that it was designed to serve the interests of Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.
Charbel said he hoped that MPs from rival political factions will reach agreement on a new election law before the end of the year in order for his ministry to be able to make logistical preparations to hold next year’s parliamentary elections on time. He said his ministry needed five to six months to prepare for the elections scheduled in the spring of 2013.
“What matters is for the committees to reach positive results before the end of the year ... The ball is in the MPs’ court,” Charbel added.
Charbel’s remarks came a day after MPs from the joint parliamentary committees held a fourth round of discussions on at least three draft electoral laws amid a widening gap between the opposition March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc over which legislation best guarantees fair representation for all the parties in the 2013 elections.
The committees are to meet again Thursday to address the government’s draft election law in detail after March 8 and March 14 MPs bickered over the broad outlines, but there are already disputes over which article to start with.
The 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 scheme as well as the size of the districts.
Also on the committees’ agenda is a proposal presented by the March 14 Christian parties that would use 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all-system. Another proposal is that of MP 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. This draft law is similar to a proposal made by the Orthodox Gathering.
While Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have backed the government’s proportional representation draft law, the Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and its Christian March 14 allies have come out in support of the small district proposal.
Charbel defended the government’s draft, saying proportional representation is the best system. “This system ensures the best representation for all the parties,” he said.
“The MPs have to choose between the proposals of proportionality, the Orthodox Gathering and small districts,” Charbel added.
The minister refused to make predictions when asked whether Lebanon would have a new election law by the end of the year or would again hold elections based on the controversial 1960 law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system that was used in the 2009 parliamentary polls.
“If no agreement is reached on a new election law, we have the current  law,” Charbel said.
Asked whether a return to the 1960 law was possible or the 2013 elections would be postponed if no agreement was reached, Charbel said: “In Lebanon, you can expect everything.”
Despite the mounting threat of a spillover of the turmoil in Syria into Lebanon, Charbel said: “The elections should be held on time.”
The Maronite Church has rejected 1960 election law and called for a new system to be used in the 2013 polls. Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai has warned that a return to the 1960 law would threaten Lebanon’s sectarian coexistence and diversity.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea reiterated his support for the March 14 proposal for small electoral districts, saying it can ensure true representation. He stressed that the 2013 elections should be held on time.
“We will work hard to reach a new law before the end of the year so that the of Interior and Municipalities Ministry can make the necessary preparations,” Geagea said in a statement after meeting U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly at his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut.