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Amal MP: March 14 vote proposal divisive

Officials from March 14 coalition gather during the weekly meeting in Ashrafieh, Lebanon, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. (Mohammad Azakir/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: An electoral law proposal by the March 14 coalition came under fire Sunday by Amal Movement MP Hani Kobeissi, who said adopting small districts would lead to further division in Lebanon.

Kobeissi, a member of Speaker Nabih Berri’s bloc, said the proposal goes against the Taif Accord of 1989, which ended 15 years of civil war in Lebanon and introduced major constitutional amendments.

Lawmakers at Taif agreed that future electoral laws in Lebanon would adopt voting districts based on provinces. Lebanon is currently divided into six provinces.

Future Movement MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star his bloc supports a province-based system in principle, but said an agreement on such a law was not possible in face of strong objections by Christian parties.

“Ideally, we would support a province-based electoral law that is in line with the Taif Accord, but practically we need to take into consideration the principle of coexistence which was also stressed in the agreement. We cannot move ahead with a law that does not ensure fair representation for Christians,” Houri said.

The law proposed by March 14 Christian parties would divide Lebanon into 61 electoral districts. It was prepared by the Bkirki Committee, under the patronage of the Maronite Church. The proposal won the support of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future bloc late last week.

Last month, the Cabinet approved a draft law that would divide Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts with a system of proportional representation.

The electoral districts were divided as follows: two for Beirut, two for south Lebanon, three for the Bekaa, three for north Lebanon and three for Mount Lebanon.

If the Cabinet’s draft law is approved by Parliament, the country would hold elections for the first time under a proportional representation system. However, several blocs have already voiced their objection to proportional representation.

If a deal on a new electoral law is not reached, the 2013 elections will be held according to a version of the 1960 law under which the last polls were held.

Besides the draft law prepared by the Bkirki Committee and the Cabinet’s proposal, two MPs from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc forwarded to Parliament last week an electoral draft law under which every sect would elect its own MPs based on a system of proportional representation.

The move by Aoun signals a return to the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal that was made earlier this year by Christian politicians. The Gathering’s proposal had been dismissed by many organizations, which argued that it would strengthen sectarianism.

Houri held Aoun responsible for hindering a deal on a new vote law.

“We all recall how Aoun fought for the adoption of the 1960 law prior to the 2009 elections, claiming that a qada-based law [26 electoral districts] would achieve better representation for Christians. I do not see why he would now object to a law that adopts even smaller districts,” he said.

Baabda MP Hikmat Deeb, a member of the Reform and Change bloc, told The Daily Star Aoun was against a law that would use 61 electoral districts because such a law would create “a club of millionaires” in Parliament.

“If the electoral district is too small, it would be easy for any millionaire to buy off many voters, and we will end up having a club of millionaires in Parliament,” he said.

Deeb said Aoun was a champion of proportional representation, but would not mind returning to the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal, which would also be a favorable alternative to the Bkirki committee’s proposal.

“The Bkirki committee agreed on two laws: one that adopts 61 districts, and another which allows each sect to elect its own representatives. We voiced our reservation on the first one for the reasons I mentioned earlier,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 17, 2012, on page 4.

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