Lebanon News

Electoral panel in race against time

Parliament meeting in Beirut, Oct. 16, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: A parliamentary subcommittee tasked with finding a new electoral law for this year’s polls was racing against time this week in its attempts to agree on a voting system that would ensure fair representation for all sects.

The subcommittee’s tough job comes against the backdrop of growing fears that the parliamentary elections, scheduled in early June, might be postponed if no agreement is reached by the rival factions on a new electoral legislation to replace the 1960 law, which has been rejected by officials on both side of the political divide.

Subcommittee members, from the March 8 and March 14 parties, have only until Friday to agree on a voting system before Speaker Nabih Berri refers the issue of an electoral law to the joint parliamentary committees.

The Parliament panel resumed talks Monday on a hybrid electoral proposal that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all-system.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting held in Parliament, MP Robert Ghanem, the subcommittee chairman, said Tuesday would be the last day for lawmakers to present amendments or suggestions to proposals made by MPs Ali Bazzi and Akram Shehayeb on a hybrid vote law.

“The subcommittee continued its discussion of the two proposals made by MPs Shehayeb and Bazzi. With regard to the former’s proposal, we discussed details and the distribution of districts within the framework of the basic criteria on which we have agreed, the most important of which is [ensuring] a true Christian representation and maintaining political balances,” Ghanem said.

He added that some lawmakers voiced reservations about Bazzi and Shehayeb’s proposals concerning the distribution of seats under a proportional representation system and a majority system.

”Tomorrow [Tuesday] is the last day for presenting amendments or suggestions based on MPs Bazzi’s and Shehayeb’s proposals,” Ghanem said. He added that the panel would continue its discussion of this subject Wednesday and probably Thursday.

Bazzi, who belongs to Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary Liberation and Development bloc, suggested an equal distribution of seats between a proportional representation system and a winner-takes-all system.

Shehayeb, from the Progressive Socialist Party, proposed 70 percent of the seats be based on a majority system.

Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel, also a subcommittee member, suggested 60 percent of the seats should be based on proportional representation and 40 percent on a majority system.

MP Alain Aoun, a subcommittee member representing MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, said the possibility of reaching an agreement on a vote law combining proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system this week was difficult if not impossible.

Both Gemayel and Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan, a subcommittee member, have yet to put forward their parties’ proposals for a hybrid vote system.

Adwan sounded optimistic about the results of the subcommittee’s efforts: “Optimism is rising because all [parties] are shouldering their national responsibilities. Everyone realizes that stability and calm in Lebanon depended on an election law.”

Gemayel, asked if the Kataeb and the LF were working to present a joint proposal, said: “Our goal is the same. We are trying to present a formula acceptable to everyone. Comrades in the LF are working on a formula and we are working on a formula. We might combine the two formulas and present them as one.”

Asked if he was optimistic that the subcommittee would reach an agreement by Wednesday, Gemayel said: “If the intentions are good, we will reach a conciliatory electoral law, especially since the gap among the parties is no longer wide. But if there are no good intentions, even if we reach agreement, the agreement will not work.”

LF leader Samir Geagea warned in remarks published by An-Nahar of the consequences of failing to agree on a new vote law: “The country might enter a dark and dangerous tunnel if no solution is reached.”

Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad said that holding the elections on time would spare the country trouble: “Postponement of the elections will open all doors to loopholes and expose the reality of the [ruling] system.” – Additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 12, 2013, on page 1.

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