Lebanon News

Sleiman rules out poll law that deepens divisions

Members of the subcommittee (Leb Par Web, HO)

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman warned Friday against adopting “unconstitutional” electoral plans that deepen sectarian divisions in the country, in what appeared to be a veiled rejection of the Orthodox Gathering’s controversial proposal.

Also Friday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati signaled that the government would have to call for the legislative elections, scheduled on June 9, to be held on the basis of the 1960 law if Parliament failed to reach an agreement on a new electoral law.

Officials on both sides of the political divide, including the Maronite Church, have rejected the 1960 law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system. The 1960 law was used in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

The remarks by Sleiman and Mikati came as a parliamentary subcommittee held another round of talks on different proposals for a hybrid electoral law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system but without making any major breakthrough in its attempts to agree on a united voting system.

The subcommittee, which includes MPs from the March 8 and March 14 parties, will hold a final session Saturday before presenting the results of its deliberations to Speaker Nabih Berri, who will decide then on whether to refer the thorny issue of a new electoral law to the joint parliamentary committees.

Sleiman voiced hope that the subcommittee would “agree on a draft electoral law that can secure, to large extent, true representation for all segments and groups of [Lebanese] society.”

“We should stay away from electoral plans and proposals that contravene the Constitution and which enhance confessional and sectarian divisions and do not serve national cohesion and coexistence,” the president said, according to a statement released by his office.

Sleiman discussed the subcommittee’s work during a meeting with Future MPs Ahmad Fatfat, Qassem Abdel-Aziz and Kazem Kheir. The president and the lawmakers stressed “the need for all the parties to make concessions and sacrifices for the country by producing and approving a modern electoral law as soon as possible because the tendency toward holding the parliamentary elections is irreversible.”

Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun renewed his support for the Orthodox proposal in what appeared to be a response to Sleiman’s threat to challenge the plan if it was enacted by Parliament.

Aoun said Sleiman would not be able to challenge the Orthodox proposal as “unconstitutional” if it was referred to and approved in Parliament.

“I tell the president not to bother. The [electoral] law is an election system and has nothing to do with the Constitution,” he said in remarks published by Al-Akhbar newspaper Friday.

The Orthodox proposal, which gained the support of the country’s four rival Maronite parties – the FPM, the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party and the Marada Movement – projects Lebanon as a single district where each sect elects its MPs under a proportional representation system.

The plan has also gained a majority of votes within the parliamentary subcommittee, including support from Hezbollah and Amal Movement MPs.

However, Sleiman, Mikati, former premier Saad Hariri, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and some independent Christian March 14 lawmakers have rejected the Orthodox proposal, warning it would sharpen sectarian divisions and encourage extremism in the country. For his part, Mikati hinted that the government would hold the elections based on the 1960 law if Parliament failed to agree on a new electoral legislation. He reiterated his support for the Cabinet’s draft electoral law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-sized districts.

“The government is committed to the draft law it had sent to Parliament. There is the 1960 law, which is in force. We are committed constitutionally and legally to hold the parliamentary elections before the end of the current Parliament’s mandate according to the law in force,” Mikati told reporters at the Grand Serail.

He said he opposed the 1960 law, adding that the Cabinet has not abandoned its own draft electoral law, which has been rejected outright by the Future Movement and its March 14 allies as well as by Jumblatt.

“But so far, I don’t have any legal opinion that would allow me legally and constitutionally to drop the 1960 law,” Mikati said. “There are political opinions against the 1960 law, but there is a difference between a political opinion and a legal one which binds the government to do its duty to hold the elections on time.”

“I call on Parliament to meet and take the decision it deems appropriate. If Parliament does not take a decision, we are bound to implement the law in force.”

LF MP George Adwan presented his party’s proposal for a hybrid electoral law as the parliamentary subcommittee extended its mission for one more day.

“I presented today the LF’s proposal, taking into consideration all the comments, concerns and rights expressed by fellow lawmakers during the subcommittee’s previous meetings,” Adwan told reporters in Parliament.

Speaking after the subcommittee’s meeting, he said the LF’s proposal would secure the election of 56 Christian lawmakers by Christian voters.

Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem, the head of the subcommittee, said the lawmakers would hold a final session Saturday to study comments on all the proposals before submitting a report on their deliberations to the joint parliamentary committees. “Even if no final a?ccord is reached on the electoral law, we will still submit the report based on the progress made so far,” Ghanem said.

“If it is positive, the report, God willing, will be a gateway for future dialogue and will break the ice among the Lebanese,” he added. Ghanem said Adwan’s proposal over the hybrid formula ensures a fair representation for Christians.

According to Adwan, the LF proposal’s distribution of districts was the same as a hybrid formula known as the Fouad Butros draft law, which suggests a semiproportional representation system.

The rival factions have put forward different proposals for a hybrid vote law during the subcommittee’s meetings over the past few weeks.

The Future proposal, put forward by Fatfat earlier this week, envisages 70 percent of Parliament’s seats filled via a winner-takes-all system with the rest through proportional representation.

Aley MP Akram Shehayeb, from the PSP, presented a similar formula to that of the Future Movement. But, the two parties differ in terms of district distribution.

Another proposal, presented by Metn MP Sami Gemayel from the Kataeb Party, envisages 60 percent of seats being won through a winner-takes-all system and the remainder according to proportional representation.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 16, 2013, on page 1.




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