BEIRUT: The Council of Maronite Bishops warned Wednesday that time was running out for a new electoral law, urging rival factions to reach an agreement on a voting system that secures fair representation for both Muslims and Christians.
In a statement issued after their monthly meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, the bishops dwelt on the “lengthy discussions” held by a parliamentary subcommittee in the past few weeks on the issue of an electoral draft law to govern this year’s polls.
“As the constitutional deadline for the election date has become very narrow, the political parties are duty-bound to agree on choosing the best law to achieve national representation that can reassure all citizens and apply the rule of a real equal power-sharing and parity between Christians and Muslims according to Article 24 in the Constitution and safeguard coexistence,” the statement said.
The parliamentary subcommittee tasked with finding a new electoral law has so far failed to reach an agreement.
The subcommittee, which includes lawmakers from the March 8 and March 14 parties, is still debating a hybrid vote proposal that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system. Although the polls are scheduled for early June, an electoral law should be approved by Parliament at least four months before so that the Interior Ministry can begin administrative and logistical preparations.
The bishops also condemned last week’s deadly ambush by unidentified gunmen in the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal that killed two soldiers and wounded several others, urging the state to firmly implement the rule of law.
“The bishops expressed their worry over the [lack of] security, the surge in crime and kidnappings, the phenomenon of security by consent, and hostility toward the Army and the military and security forces,” the statement said.
“The bishops call on the state to firmly implement the law and urge the Lebanese to respect legitimate military and security institutions, as they alone have the right and duty to ensure security and protection of all citizens and safeguard the state’s sovereignty and prestige,” it added.
Turning to the sensitive issue of civil marriage, the bishops said that civil marriage may accompany, but not replace, religious marriage.
“Marriage is one of the church’s sacraments and civil marriage cannot replace this sacrament. However, those who participate in a civil marriage, if they are believers, are obliged to rectify their status by conducting a church marriage in order to be able to participate in the church’s other sacraments.”
According to the bishops, the issue of civil marriage has two aspects: one religious and one constitutional.
“At the constitutional level, the approval of civil marriage in Lebanon, be it compulsory or optional, requires that the Lebanese authorities amend Article 9 in the Constitution,” the statement said. “On a religious level, marriage is a holy union and civil marriage should not replace the religious one.”
The controversy over the legalization of civil marriage was renewed last month when President Michel Sleiman voiced his support for a change to its status, saying the Constitution guaranteed it as a civil right.
His comments came after a couple, who had deleted mention of their religious identity from their civil registration document, attempted to make their civil wedding official.
Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish announced they had wed as a secular couple and that they were awaiting the Interior Ministry’s formal recognition of their marriage document.
Religious leaders remain split on the issue of legalizing civil marriage in Lebanon, a country where 18 different sects are officially recognized.
The staunchest opposition to civil marriage has come from Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, who has issued a fatwa, or religious edict, saying that any Muslim politician and minister who supported civil marriage would not be considered Muslim.