Lebanon News

Sleiman: Vote law row a stall tactic to delay polls

President Michel Sleiman arrives to attend a Cabinet session at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman accused the country’s political parties Wednesday of seeking to extend Parliament’s mandate by failing to agree on a new electoral law for this year’s polls, but he vowed to prevent such a scheme from succeeding.

The president’s rare diatribe against the rival factions came during a Cabinet meeting he chaired at Baabda Palace, where he also pledged that the parliamentary elections, scheduled for early June, would be held on time.

Also Wednesday, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future parliamentary bloc, said the elections should be held on time and should be an occasion to bring about change in Lebanon by removing Hezbollah and its March 8 allies from the government, which he blamed for the country’s deteriorating economic and security conditions.

Apparently referring to the March 8 and March 14 parties’ failure so far to agree on a new electoral law to replace the 1960 voting system, Sleiman vowed not to allow the extension of Parliament’s six-year mandate, which expires in June shortly after a new legislature is elected.

He also reiterated his support for Cabinet’s draft electoral law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-sized districts, which has been rejected outright by the Future Movement and its March 14 allies.

“The problem is not in the adoption or non-adoption of the 1960 election law. Rather, the problem is that several political parties want the current Parliament’s mandate to be extended. But I will not allow the extension,” he told the ministers, without naming those parties.

Sleiman said he stood firm on his support for “the Cabinet’s draft electoral law, which has been sent to Parliament, and respecting the constitutional deadline for holding the parliamentary elections on time.”

Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati insisted during the Cabinet meeting that the June 9 elections should be held on time come what may and under any electoral law, a ministerial source told The Daily Star.

The Cabinet decided to refer the divisive issue of the formation of a committee to supervise the elections to the Higher Consultation Committee, headed by Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi.

The body is to issue its opinion on the deadline for the creation of the election commission.

The Cabinet’s decision averted a much-feared clash between Sleiman and March 8 ministers over the creation of the election supervisory commission as mandated by the electoral law that is currently in place. While Sleiman insists on creating the committee within the constitutional deadline, ministers from Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement fear its formation would lead to holding the elections under the 1960 law, which has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political divide.

Reflecting the March 8 ministers’ tough stance on the election supervisory commission, Energy Minister Gibran Bassil from Aoun’s FPM said after the Cabinet meeting: “The commission will not be formed before the approval of a new election law.”

Meanwhile, Siniora blasted Hezbollah, saying the elections should be held on time and should be an occasion to rid the government of the party and its March 8 allies.

“We insist that the parliamentary elections be held on time in order to revive hope for the recovery of Lebanon and its institutions and its aspiration for the future with confidence and a wide vision. It is illogical to accept this decline and regression caused by the policy of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime,” Siniora said in a televised speech to the Lebanese on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“We want the elections to be held on time in order to renew confidence in Lebanon and its institutions. We want the elections as a way to bring about change by democratic means in order to get rid of this group which is controlling Lebanon and preventing its reconstruction, development and prosperity and threatening its stability,” he added.

Siniora slammed Hezbollah’s use of its arms to influence political life. “We want the elections because they are the only means to restore Lebanon as a normal, free, sovereign and advanced country, rather than a partner or working for the people of arms and the interests of their allies beyond the border,” he said, referring to Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian allies.

Siniora also blasted the Mikati government, saying it did not represent the real aspirations of the Lebanese people.

“The current Cabinet was formed through a coup initiated by Hezbollah,” he added. “We have demanded the resignation of the coup government and rejected the so-called Orthodox Gathering’s proposal, a proposal that will dismember Lebanon.” He said the Future Movement had presented to Parliament a draft electoral law to boost national cohesion and sectarian coexistence.

Future MP Ahmad Fatfat presented Tuesday the bloc’s own hybrid electoral law that was discussed by a parliamentary subcommittee, but did not muster full support by all blocs. Fatfat said the draft law called for 70 percent of MPs to be elected under a winner-takes-all system and the rest under proportional representation.

The subcommittee, which includes MPs from the March 8 and March 14 parties, Wednesday resumed discussions on different proposals for a hybrid electoral plan that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all-system.

Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel presented his party’s proposal for a hybrid electoral law, which envisages 60 percent of Parliament seats be elected through a winner-takes-all system and the remainder according to proportional representation.

He said his party’s formula, which divides Lebanon into nine electoral districts based on proportional representation and 36 districts based on a winner-takes-all system, took into consideration both fair Christian representation and political balances in the country. “My proposal secures the election of 58 to 60 Christian MPs with Christian votes,” Gemayel said.

Chouf MP George Adwan, a subcommittee member from the Lebanese Forces, said the MPs agreed to compare the proposals in hand to arrive at a joint draft.

Bint Jbeil MP Ali Bazzi, from Speaker Nabih Berri’s Development and Liberation bloc, has suggested Parliament be split equally between lawmakers elected on the basis of proportional representation and a winner-takes-all system.

Adwan, the LF MP, said the subcommittee would refer several draft laws to the joint parliamentary committees.

However, Gemayel warned that if the subcommittee failed to reach agreement, the country would face an “open political battle.”

The head of the subcommittee, Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem, voiced hope that the lawmakers would reach common ground that could unite the rival coalitions. “Discussions will continue until the last moment. We have two days for [further] discussion, verification and conclusion,” Ghanem told reporters after the meeting held in Parliament.

Ahead of the subcommittee’s meeting earlier in the day, Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad voiced reservations to the Future bloc’s hybrid electoral proposal.

“The Future proposal only allows for three Sunni lawmakers to be elected based on proportional representation, none of which will be for a Beirut seat,” he said.

March 8 lawmakers Bazzi and Alain Aoun, a member of the FPM, also voiced objections to the Future Movement’s proposal, saying that it did not secure fair representation for Christians.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 14, 2013, on page 1.




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