BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Maronite Church called Friday for a new election law that ensures a true and fair Christian representation in next year’s parliamentary polls, while rejecting the current law that is based on a winner-takes-all system.
A statement issued after a monthly meeting of the Council of Maronite Bishops chaired by Patriarch Beshara Rai also demanded that the parliamentary elections, scheduled for spring 2013, be held on time, rejecting any attempts to delay the vote.
The Maronite Church’s call came as rival March 8 and March 14 factions engaged in a tough wrangling over conflicting proposals for a new electoral law to be adopted for next year’s polls.
At the center of the debate is a draft approved by the government last month that would divide the country into 13 medium-sized districts with a system of proportional representation.
A proposal for small electoral districts unveiled this week by Christian March 14 parties has sparked nationwide controversy, with March 8 parties and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt rejecting it.
“The Lebanese people, both residents and in the diaspora, are looking forward with hope for Parliament to issue a new law for parliamentary elections that would ensure a true representation for all citizens and ensure a democratic practice in forming an effective political authority capable of running the country’s affairs,” the statement said.
The bishops rejected the current election law better known as the “1960 law,” saying it does not ensure Christian representation.
They said that the 1960 law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and was used in the 2009 elections, had led “a large number of Christian MPs and others to be subservient to other sects in a way contrary to the formula of true coexistence and equal power-sharing in making up Parliament as consecrated by Article 24 in the constitution.”
“Therefore, it is imperative that a new [election] law ensures true and fair representation for all components of the Lebanese society and grants expatriates the right to vote as part of a genuine and effective equal power-sharing between Christian and Muslim sects as provided for in the Taif Accord and confirmed by the Lebanese Constitution,” the bishops said.
Stressing for the 2013 parliamentary elections to be held on time, the bishops said that discussion and approval of a new electoral law should be given utmost priority “because the time factor is working against the reforms desired by the Lebanese people.”
Many say that it is because Lebanon’s last parliamentary polls were determined by the 1960 law that sectarian divisions persist today and minorities continue to lack representation.
The approved law is based on proportional representation and divides the country into 13 medium-sized districts. A district would be larger than a qada – the electoral region adopted in the last parliamentary polls in 2009 – but smaller than a governorate.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his March 14 allies have rejected the government’s draft electoral law, saying it was designed to serve the interests of Hezbollah and its March 8 allies. Jumblatt has also rejected the government’s proportional representation draft law, favoring the current electoral law.
A senior Hezbollah official reiterated the party’s support for the government’s draft law based on proportional representation, rejecting the March 14 coalition’s proposal for small electoral districts.
“We are in dire need of fair elections that offer equal chances to all parties and prevent monopolies and the influence of money in buying votes. This matter can only be achieved through an election law based on proportional representation,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said.
He slammed the March 14 parties who presented a draft electoral law to Parliament earlier this week based on 50 small electoral constituencies.
“Such a proposal is an attempt to go backward ... The law based on 50 electoral constituencies is even worse than the current electoral law,” Qassem said.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea defended the March 14 parties’ draft law, describing it as the best option for Christians in the country.
“Not only does this draft law provide the best representation but it also includes a series of reform items, including the independent committee overseeing elections, pre-printed ballots, organized election financing and media campaigns,” Geagea told reporters at his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut.
He praised the Maronite rejection of a return to the 1960 law, which he described as “a very unfair law.”
“The aim of any new election law is to introduce the biggest number of reforms and ensure a true representation,” Geagea said, adding: “The 50-district draft law achieves the two goals by giving each sect the right to elect the majority of MPs from this sect.”
Geagea said that MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement will have to choose between the government’s draft law and the March 14 proposal for small districts. Lawmakers from Parliament’s joint committees began debating Thursday the lines of the government’s draft law.
Also being discussed is a winner-takes-all system and a draft law proposed by Aoun’s Parliamentary Change and Reform bloc that would allow every sect to elect their own MPs under a proportional representation system with Lebanon as a single district.
The MPs are also expected to consider a proposal for small electoral districts unveiled by Christian March 14 lawmakers Thursday.
The draft law, presented to Parliament’s General Secretariat by Kataeb (Phalange) Party MP Sami Gemayel, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan and MP Butros Harb, would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts, each having two or three seats under a winner-takes-all system.
The Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party back plans dividing Lebanon into 61 small districts with a winner-take-all system.
The Bkirki Committee, which includes Christian MPs from March 8 and March 14 parties and former Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud, met under Rai Friday night to examine various electoral proposals. Speaking to reporters upon arriving in Bkirki, former Minister Youssef Saadeh, from MP Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement, said that the proposal for small 50 districts will not pass.
Energy Minister Gebran Bassil lashed out at the Christian March 14 parties’ proposal for small districts, saying it was aimed at manipulating Christian votes.
“In 2000 and 2005, they devised large districts based on a winner-takes-all system to gag the Christian vote. Today, they are devising small districts with a winner-takes-all system to manipulate the Christian vote,” Bassil told Lebanese expatriates at a dinner in the U.S. state of Michigan.