Lebanon News

Future consults March 14 allies, Jumblatt over new vote law

Members of the Future bloc meet at Hariri's downtown residence in Beirut, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: The parliamentary Future bloc is holding consultations with its March 14 allies and with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt in an attempt to reach a unified position on a new election law, Beirut MP Ammar Houri said Sunday.

“Contacts have been going on for some time between the Future bloc, the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb [Phalange] Party as well as with Jumblatt to reconcile viewpoints on the best election law,” Houri told The Daily Star.

Houri, a member of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future bloc, said Jumblatt had met Hariri in Paris last month. Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra met Hariri in the Saudi capital Riyadh last month.

The ice-breaking meeting between Hariri and Jumblatt, the first between the two leaders in 19 months, was viewed as a boost to the opposition March 14 coalition, raising hopes for it to regain the parliamentary majority in next year’s elections.

Media reports said Hariri and Jumblatt had agreed during the meeting on rejecting the government’s draft electoral law, which would divide Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts based on a system of proportional representation.

March 14 has rejected outright Cabinet’s draft law, arguing that it is designed to serve the interests of Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.

Jumblatt had in recent weeks sent clear signals that he was preparing to walk out of the current parliamentary majority, which mainly includes Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and other March 8 allies.

The PSP leader had made it clear that he intended to ally with the March 14 coalition in the 2013 elections, according to a PSP source.

Houri said the Future bloc supported a recent proposal by March 14 Christian parties that would divide Lebanon into 50 electoral districts. He reiterated the bloc’s rejection of the proportional representation system as well as a proposal by the Orthodox Gathering whereby each sect would elect its own MPs.

“The Future bloc supports small districts after discussing the number of these districts,” Houri said. “The bloc supports alleviating Christian concerns [over parliamentary representation], but at the same time it stands against causing concerns to other sects.”

“The Future bloc is against proportionality under the shadow of arms,” Houri said, referring to Hezbollah’s weapons. “The bloc is also against the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral draft.”

Houri’s remarks came amid deep differences between the 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.

MPs from the joint parliamentary committees have failed in four sessions to bridge the wide gap between the rival factions over a new election law. The committees are scheduled to resume their deliberations Thursday over at least three draft electoral laws.

In addition to the government’s draft law, the committees are discussing a plan presented by March 14’s Christian parties that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all-system. Another forwarded draft law is that of 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 that of the Orthodox Gathering.

While Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have backed the government’s proportional representation draft law, the Future bloc and its Christian March 14 allies have come out in support of the small district proposal. Hezbollah’s ministers and senior party officials reiterated Sunday their support for the proportional representation system.

“Proportionality is a true and sound gateway toward justice and true representation,” Hezbollah’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish told a graduation ceremony in the southern city of Tyre. He said that if the proportional representation system was adopted, Lebanon would be “a diversified country with its social, political and intellectual setup.”

“A new election law should for once be a step toward reforming the defects of our political system and sparing Lebanon civil wars,” Fneish said.

Hezbollah’s Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj-Hasan said the 1960 election law and the March 14 proposal for 50 districts do not ensure a true representation.

“The [electoral] law that ensures a true representation is by making Lebanon a single electoral district based on the proportionality law,” he told a eulogizing ceremony in the eastern village of Al-Labwa. The minister said the March 8 and March 14 parties were split over “substantial and fundamental issues” a few months before the parliamentary elections.

Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said the discussion of a new election law should lead to developing the country’s political system. “A new election law must deepen contacts and interaction among the Lebanese and their sectarian and confessional components instead of searching for laws that lead to isolation and sectarian segregation,” he told a ceremony in the southern town of Khiam.

Khalil, who belongs to Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, reiterated the bloc’s support for Cabinet’s proportional representation plan and warned against small district proposals that run contrary to the sectarian coexistence formula.

Apparently referring to the small district proposal, he said: “While discussing a new election law, we have heard some proposals that transcend the National Covenant. This is dangerous and paves the way for weakening Lebanon and plunging it into rhetoric that will definitely lead to further splits and divisions.”

Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, who belongs to Aoun’s bloc, also defended the government’s draft law on proportional representation, saying it served the interests of all parties. “A major national discussion of election laws is going on today ... The talk about proportionality is not meant to serve the interest of anyone but the interest of everyone, the country’s interest because everyone will get his right,” Bassil told a ceremony in the northern town of Tannourine.

Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem reiterated the party’s stance that proportional representation was the fairest system for the country. “We are not embarrassed to say publicly that the proportional representation gives our allies advantage over others. But is it forbidden to have fair representation?” he asked.

Qassem lashed out at the 1960 election 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. “The 1960 law is one of the unjust laws that do not ensure real representation,” he said.

The Maronite Church has rejected the 1960 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 08, 2012, on page 1.




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