BEIRUT: A new draft electoral law submitted by the Future Movement faced strong opposition from the March 8 coalition during the second day of talks between rival lawmakers in Parliament Tuesday.
Less than a day after MPs from the Future Movement presented the bloc’s proposal for a new electoral law, the Free Patriotic Movement accused them of seeking to create divisions among major Christian parties in the country. As MPs from March 8 and March 14 prepared to resume discussions on a hybrid electoral proposal that would combine proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system, the FPM launched a fierce attack on the draft proposal that was announced by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Baabda MP Alain Aoun said that the goal of the proposal, which was referred to Parliament by the Future Movement earlier this week, was to create problems among Christian parties in rival camps and an attempt to regain their alliance with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt.
“The [Future Movement] proposal aims at creating a rift between Christian parties who have reached a consensus over the electoral law,” Aoun told reporters during a news conference in Parliament, triggering a series of responses from other members of the parliamentary subcommittee.
The Future Movement defended the proposal, arguing that their draft electoral law seeks to find common ground between all the proposals that MPs have failed to agree on.
The Orthodox Gathering proposal has failed to win the approval of Hariri and Jumblatt, who argue that the plan would end coexistence between Muslims and Christians in the country.
After the members of the subcommittee failed to reach an agreement on a new draft electoral law, the Future Movement submitted a proposal which calls for Lebanon to be divided into 37 small districts based on a winner-takes-all system and the creation of a senate.
Aoun said Christians would remain wary of such a “trap” and would not be divided. “The Christians will prove they are aware of such a trap and will not fall victim to it,” he said. He added that the proposal’s distribution of electoral districts doesn’t ensure fair representation for Christians.
“According to their proposal, only 38 Christian MPs out of 64 will be elected by Christians ... The bottom line is that the Future Movement is seeking to keep the 1960 law but in a different formula,” Aoun said.
Jumblatt said over the weekend that Hariri’s initiative is not suitable for his party or his supporters, but Aoun was adamant that Hariri is trying to persuade the PSP to form an alliance with the Future Movement before the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“This is a law aimed to lure MP Walid Jumblatt into an electoral alliance with the Future Movement,” Aoun added. “Through his proposal, Hariri is trying to offer a consolation prize to his former ally.”
Aoun also said that dividing Beirut into four electoral districts marginalizes the power of Armenian voters in the city. “This proposal continues to target Armenians in Beirut, Metn and Zahle, which has been the case since the 2000 elections.”
Aoun’s comments drew the ire of March 14 MP Serge Torsarkissian, who said that the FPM is attempting to exploit the issue of Armenians’ representation for electoral gains. “Armenian representation is not a game for some parties to score points against each other with,” Torsarkissian said.
Torsarkissian also said that Armenians have not given the FPM a mandate to defend its rights in Parliament. “We reject differentiating between Armenians and Christians ... Armenian political figures and parties are present to address Armenian concerns,” he added.
Defending the Future Movement proposal, MP Ahmad Fatfat said that the electoral law allows Christians to elect 48 of their MPs and not 38 seats as Aoun has claimed. The Future Movement also said that its proposal is practical given the circumstances and the urgency to agree on a new electoral law different from the 1960 Law that is currently in place.
“The draft presented by the bloc is a realistic proposal and can be implemented for the upcoming parliamentary elections without any delay,” the bloc said in its weekly statement. “Failure to hold elections on time would be dangerous for the country and trust in the state and the [political] system would be greatly weakened.”
The Future Movement also said that it would continue to engage in dialogue with rival parties to end the monthslong deadlock over reaching an agreement on a new electoral law.
Hariri’s initiative came after his party rejected a draft law agreed on by the country’s four major Christian parties. The Orthodox Gathering draft law was also rejected by President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and a number of independent Christian politicians.
The chairman of the parliamentary subcommittee, MP Robert Ghanem, stressed that discussions were positive Tuesday and said there was a possibility that consensus could be reached on the hybrid electoral law.
Ghanem also said that the Future Movement proposal would not be part of the subcommittee’s discussions. “It is up to the joint committees to discuss the proposal and not the subcommittee ... Still, if there are any important ideas we can include in our discussions, we will,” he added.
Speaking to reporters following his weekly Change and Reform bloc meeting in Rabieh, FPM leader Michel Aoun said that his party would continue to hold talks in Parliament in order to agree on a new electoral law.
“MPs will continue their work and will not be distracted by other debates.”