BEIRUT: A parliamentary subcommittee studying two controversial items in the Cabinet’s draft election law held its first meeting Tuesday, with members agreeing to keep discussions secret.
Prior to the subcommittee’s meeting, Speaker Nabih Berri chaired a parliamentary session to elect members of parliamentary committees and Parliament’s secretariat.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said he is preparing a backup draft election law which he will present if parties do not agree to the government’s.
“A mechanism to approach the draft election laws was laid down during the meeting and it was agreed that the content of the subcommittee’s discussions will be kept secret,” Deputy-Speaker Farid Makari told reporters after the subcommittee meeting.
Composed of representatives of rival blocs, the subcommittee is studying items related to the type of electoral system and the size of districts. The government’s draft law would divide the country into 13 medium-sized districts under a proportional representation system.
Future Movement MP Serge Torsarkissian, a member of the subcommittee, said that its members would address the two controversial items in detail in their next meeting Thursday.
“The most important thing is that there is insistence [among groups] on holding elections on time. Discussions were general [during the meeting], everyone expressed his opinion,” the MP said.
MP Alain Aoun, from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, said the climate was positive. “Talks were meaningful and serious, although this does not mean that we will reach an agreement,” he said. “If we did not reach an agreement ... Parliament’s General Assembly will have its final say,” he added.
The March 14 coalition argues that the government’s draft law was designed to serve the interests of Hezbollah, and Christian groups from the opposition have presented a draft law that would divide the country into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system.
The Change and Reform parliamentary bloc has also presented a draft law under which every sect would be able to elect its own MPs with the adoption of proportional representation and the entirety of Lebanon as a single district.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Charbel said he still supports the government’s draft law. “We worked hard on it before referring it to Cabinet ... this is the best draft law.”
But the minister said he is preparing a backup draft election law in case the first does not find support in Parliament.
“We are preparing a draft law that will satisfy all groups ... in the first round, each sect will elect its own MPs in districts,” Charbel said. “Whoever gets 10 percent of the votes would qualify for the second round.”
In the second round, Charbel continued, the winning MPs would be elected by voters from all sects in their districts.
“The qualifying Christian [and Muslim MP] would be elected by his own sect [in the first round], thus, no sect would say that its rights were taken by another sect,” Charbel said.
Asked whether there is enough time for the new draft law to be approved by Cabinet and endorsed by Parliament, Charbel said it wouldn’t be a problem to delay elections one or two months if all parties agree on a draft law.
During the parliamentary session, consensus reigned, with most members of parliamentary committees re-elected unanimously.
Future Movement MP Hadi Hobeish replaced MP Akram Shehayeb, from Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, in the Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee. MP Marwan Hamade replaced Henry Helou, both members of the Democratic Gathering bloc, in the same committee.
Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam replaced MP Antoine Zahra, also from LF, in the Defense, Interior and Municipalities Committee.
In the Environment Committee, LF MP Shant Janjanian replaced late MP Farid Habib, from the same party. Habib passed away in May.
MP Henry Helou replaced Future Movement MP Robert Fadel in the Economy, Trade, Industry and Oil Committee. Karam replaced late Habib and MP Hagop Pakradounian replaced MP Michel Helou in the same committee. The two are from Aoun’s bloc.
In the Media and Telecommunications Committee, Future Movement MP Jean Ogassapian replaced MP Bassem Shab, who is from the same bloc.
MP Michel Helou became a member of the Youth and Sports Committee in place of Pakradounian and MP Gilbert Zwein replaced MP Ibrahim Kanaan in the Human Rights Committee. Kanaan and Zwein are from Aoun’s bloc.
Before the elections, reporters left the hall for around 10 minutes at the request of Berri.
Parliamentary sources told The Daily Star that Berri scolded lawmakers for poor attendance at meetings of parliamentary committees, mentioning MPs Nehme Tohme, Nayla Tueni and Bahia Hariri by name.
At the beginning of the session, Berri approved the minutes of the previous legislative session, which was necessary for the 23 draft laws endorsed during it to become law.
The speaker requested, however, that the approval of a controversial draft law, which makes contract workers at Electricite du Liban full timers, be suspended until the upcoming session, which he said is likely to convene on Nov. 7 and 8.
The Change and Reform bloc, the Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces and the Future parliamentary bloc opposed the draft law which was backed by Berri’s Amal bloc and Hezbollah. Weeks later, Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Amal reached an agreement under which contract workers became full timers at private service providers for EDL.
The new draft law is expected to reflect this agreement.
MP Kanaan said after the session that his bloc and the other Christian parties are set to present a draft law to Parliament Wednesday that would introduce certain amendments to the initial draft law, thanking Berri for suspending its approval.
“I hope that this cooperation ... will result in a draft law to be endorsed in the upcoming legislative session ... it will hopefully be presented [to Parliament] as soon as possible and be signed in agreement with all blocs,” Kanaan said.
The short session saw some light moments, with Berri having his usual trouble in pronouncing MP Janjanian’s family name.