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Berri prepares plan B in case of vote law panel failure
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a legislative session at the Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a legislative session at the Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri warned Sunday he would take the thorny issue of an electoral law to the joint parliamentary committees if a house panel failed this week to agree on a united voting system for this year’s polls.

Berri’s warning came as the March 8 and March 14 parties were still far apart over what legislation could ensure fair representation for all religious communities.

Also Sunday, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari predicted that the elections would be delayed for at least three months for technical reasons, as a parliamentary subcommittee faced a decisive week in its attempts to agree on a new electoral law for the polls scheduled in early June.

“This week is the last one for the parliamentary subcommittee. If they [MPs] reached an agreement on an electoral draft law, this would be good,” Berri told The Daily Star. “But if they did not reach an agreement, I will open the door to the joint committees to discuss draft [electoral] laws presented [to Parliament], starting with the Orthodox proposal.”

Earlier Sunday, Berri’s media adviser told MTV the speaker rejected former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s recent electoral proposal because it did not call for proportional representation and large districts.

“Berri supports Christian unanimity on an election law. But the country’s unity and preserving the Christians are his top priorities,” Ali Hamdan said.

“Berri supports proportionality with Lebanon as a single electoral district and the abrogation of political sectarianism as stipulated by the Constitution. ... Our fundamental demand is proportionality,” Hamdan added.

However, Makari, an ally of Hariri, voiced support for the former prime minister’s electoral proposal, while lambasting the Orthodox Gathering’s controversial draft law and a proportional representation system.

“The elections will be postponed until after September for technical reasons. A hybrid electoral law is a compromise solution,” Makari said.

Makari, a key figure of the March 14 coalition, slammed the Orthodox proposal, saying it contradicted the Constitution and the Taif Accord.

“The Orthodox draft law has become a thing of the past. It is inapplicable because it contravenes the Taif [Accord] and the Constitution,” Makari said. “The majority of Christians and the spiritual and political Orthodox leaders do not support it. Also, the Christian parties [that support the Orthodox proposal] are not a majority among the Christians.”

Hariri’s electoral plan is “to find a national solution to the representation of the Christians in order to maintain the national fabric of the Lebanese,” Makari said. He added that President Michel Sleiman had been targeted by the March 8 parties’ campaigns “because he is liberal, patriotic and has opposed the Orthodox proposal.” Hariri discussed with Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel various electoral proposals at his residence in Paris.

“Understanding was reached on the need for continuing discussions and consultations among various March 14 parties and the rest of political parties with the aim of devising an electoral draft law that takes into account the concerns of all the parties without exceptions, and ensures proper representation for everyone,” said a statement released by Hariri’s office.

Last month, Hariri launched a four-point initiative that called for a small-district law based under a winner-takes-all system and the creation of a senate as a means of allaying the Christians’ concerns over representation. In an interview with LBCI TV at his residence in Paris, the head of the Future Movement also blasted the Orthodox proposal, saying it would divide the Lebanese.

Hariri’s small-district plan was similar to a draft law presented by the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts with a winner-takes-all system.

However, the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, which supports the Cabinet’s draft law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-sized districts, has rejected the 50-small-district proposal.

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have also supported the Orthodox proposal, which calls for each sect to elect its own MPs under a system of proportional representation with Lebanon as a single district.

In a rare display of Christian unity, the Orthodox proposal has been fully supported by the rival Maronite parties: The Kataeb Party, the LF, MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement as the best formula to ensure true representation for the Christians.

The Orthodox proposal has gained a majority of votes by six of the parliamentary subcommittee’s nine members, among other draft electoral laws discussed by the subcommittee.

Citing Hezbollah’s arms and the party’s “religious designation” to its voters, Makari said proportional representation could not be applied in “Hezbollah-controlled areas where there is no freedom for either the candidate or the voter.”

Makari’s remarks came as the parliamentary subcommittee was due to resume discussions Monday on a hybrid electoral law plan that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all-system. The subcommittee, including lawmakers from the March 8 and March 14 parties, has until Feb. 17 to agree on a vote legislation, or else the issue of an electoral law would be referred to the joint parliamentary committees.

Both Future MP Ahmad Fatfat and LF MP George Adwan, who represent their parties on the subcommittee, said this week would be decisive for the panel’s work.

“It is a decisive week for the subcommittee. All the parties have presented their proposals. Now if the parties are ready to help, we can reach an agreement on an electoral law,” Fatfat told The Daily Star.

He said the Future bloc was ready to accept a hybrid system to improve Christian representation: “We support small districts under a winner-takes-all system, and governorates under a proportional representation system.”

Fatfat accused Hezbollah and the FPM of working to prevent the elections from being held in June with their support of the Orthodox proposal and proportional representation, two proposals that have been rejected by the March 14 coalition.

Adwan said this week would be decisive for an electoral law and a date for the elections.

“The LF will present a proposal that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system. The LF proposal will ensure a true representation and address the [Christians’] concerns,” Adwan told MTV Sunday night.

He said there was no reason for the parties not to agree on a new electoral law after they had reached understanding on the issue.

During last week’s meeting, subcommittee member Amal Movement MP Ali Bazzi suggested an equal 50/50 distribution between a majority system and a proportional representation system, while Progressive Socialist Party MP Akram Shehayyeb suggested 70 percent of the seats should be based on a majority system with 30 percent based on proportional representation. Sami Gemayel, a subcommittee member, suggested 60 percent of the elections would be based on proportional representation and 40 percent on a majority system.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Parliamentary Future bloc, called for a new electoral law that did not violate the country’s sectarian coexistence.

“A new electoral law must gain the agreement of all the parties and it must not take the country where the Lebanese do not want,” he said in an interview to be published by the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai Monday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 11, 2013, on page 1.
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