BEIRUT: Parliament’s joint committees formed a subcommittee Thursday tasked with building consensus among rival parties on two controversial items in the Cabinet’s election draft law.
During the session, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour broached another divisive issue when he said that some 3,000 expats had registered to vote in Lebanese embassies and missions in order to take part in next year’s parliamentary elections, a figure that March 14 lawmakers dismissed as inaccurate.
The final touches on the makeup of the subcommittee were made during a meeting between Deputy-Speaker Farid Makari, Future Movement MP Samir Jisr, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, and Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan, which took place at Parliament shortly before the joint committees’ session.
MPs Ahmad Fatfat, Sami Gemayel, Serj Torsarkissian and Adwan will represent March 14, while MPs Alain Aoun, Ali Fayyad, Ali Bazzi and Hagop Pakradounian will represent the March 8 alliance. MP Akram Shehayeb will appear on behalf of Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party in the subcommittee, which is chaired by Makari.
Torsarkissian replaced Jean Ogassapian, both from the Future parliamentary bloc, after MP Michel Pharoun complained that Greek Catholics were not represented in the subcommittee.
The subcommittee is scheduled to hold its first meeting next Tuesday and is supposed to finish its task within three weeks.
The body will contact heads of parliamentary blocs in a bid to reach consensus on the type of electoral system and the size of the districts specified by the new electoral law.
The draft law referred by the Cabinet would divide Lebanon into 13-medium sized districts under a system of proportional representation.
March 14 argues that the Cabinet’s draft law is designed to serve the interests of Hezbollah, and Christian parties of the coalition have presented to Parliament a draft election law that would divide the country into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system, arguing that it provides fairer representation.
Aoun’s bloc forwarded a draft law that would allow every sect to elect its own MPs under a proportional representation system and with the adoption of Lebanon as a single district.
The subcommittee has no authority to make decisions, and MPs from rival blocs believe that agreement on the two controversial items requires consensus among political groups outside Parliament.
With the two items referred to the subcommittee, MPs proceeded with other parts of the draft law. Mansour said 3,009 Lebanese have so far registered at Lebanese embassies and missions, and around 7,000 have expressed their willingness to participate in elections but have yet to register.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Future Movement MP Ghazi Youssef dismissed the figures as “inaccurate.” MP Ammar Houri, also from the Future bloc, said that Mansour had presented two contradicting reports.
Gemayel objected to the fact that expats who registered their names abroad in order to take part in the polls would have their names removed from voting lists in Lebanon.
Speaking to reporters after the session, Gemayel said that expats are afraid that after registering their names in embassies, a decision by the government to deny expats to vote will be made at the last moment, thus denying expats to vote both in Lebanon and abroad.
“We are demanding ... that this mistake be corrected with a confirmation from the foreign minister and the prime minister that expats will be allowed to vote,” he said.
Gemayel added that expats should be allowed to take part in electing the 128 MPs in Lebanon, rather than having only six additional MPs to represent expats, as allowed under the government’s draft law. “We want expats to take part in changing the political life in Lebanon by taking part in electing the 128 MPs.”
Gemayel also said the figures presented by Mansour are incorrect. “I don’t know who among people listening to me now will believe that there are only 3,000 Lebanese across the world interested in taking part in next year’s polls.”
Mansour said after the session that if expats were not allowed to take part in the 2013 parliamentary polls from abroad, they would be allowed to vote in Lebanon.
“Their right [to vote] is guaranteed ... what is important is that they register their names,” he said, adding that the deadline for registration was Dec. 31.
Asked why the number of expats who registered their names was low, Mansour said it had to do with the expats themselves.
“We are encouraging expats to register their names via all communications means, whether [through the] Internet ... or other media outlets,” he said. “We cannot do more than that as a Foreign Ministry.”
Mansour denied presenting contradicting reports, saying that figures are continuously updated.
MPs discussed an article in the draft law that would require non-Lebanese women married to Lebanese men to wait 10 years after obtaining citizenship to vote. This is contrary to the current situation, where they are able to vote directly after obtaining Lebanese nationality.
Hezbollah MP Nawwar Saheli said that lawmakers were likely to amend the item to remove the 10-year waiting period.
MP Ali Fayyad, also from Hezbollah, denied that his party opposed the right of expatriates to vote: “We support the right of expats to vote ... but we will ask the government to guarantee the highest level of freedom for members of the Lebanese community abroad.”
Hezbollah has maintained that because it cannot campaign in countries that blacklist it as a terrorist organization, other parties would have an unfair advantage.