BEIRUT: Parliament’s joint committees will convene Monday to discuss an electoral law for June’s parliamentary elections after Interior Minister Marwan Charbel warned it would not be possible to hold polls on time if rival groups failed to agree on a voting system within 10 days.
The session comes after a parliamentary subcommittee failed following weeks of talks to reach consensus among rival parties on an electoral law. Monday’s session will be attended by Future Movement MPs although the Cabinet will be represented.
The movement has boycotted all sessions of Parliament in which the Cabinet is represented following last October’s assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, the head of the Internal Security Forces Information Branch.
“We will participate [in the session],” Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat told The Daily Star. “We studied the situation and realized that there will be an attempt to knock the National Pact and the Constitution with the Orthodox proposal. This should be confronted by us and our allies,” he explained.
Speaker Nabih Berri called on joint committees to discuss the electoral law in two sessions per day for four consecutive days starting Monday.
As disagreements continued among political blocs, Charbel warned during an interview with a local TV station that it would not be possible to hold elections on time if rival groups do not agree on a draft law within 10 days.
Sources from Berri’s parliamentary bloc said discussions during the first session would focus on the Orthodox proposal, but added that this would not prevent talks about the hybrid draft law from proceeding simultaneously.
Another source close to Berri said that during the session, MPs would hear the subcommittee’s report, which will be read by chair MP Robert Ghanem.
“They will then start discussions based on the common points reached during subcommittee meetings,” the source said. “There are many laws up for discussion, including the Orthodox proposal,” he said.
FPM MP Alain Aoun told The Daily Star that he expected the joint committees to approve the Orthodox proposal “because it is simple and does not require lengthy discussions.”
“We are waiting for Speaker Berri to assign a Parliament session to put the Orthodox proposal to a vote.”
The Orthodox plan allows for each sect to elect its own MPs under a proportional representation system with the entirety of Lebanon as a single district. It is supported by the FPM, the Marada Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb party, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, but strongly opposed by the Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Sleiman, who argue that it enhances sectarian divisions in the country. Christian groups believe the Orthodox proposal allows Christians to elect all 64 of their MPs.If approved by the joint committees, the draft law still requires the endorsement of Parliament to be enforced.
But Sleiman has said on numerous occasions that he would challenge the Orthodox proposal before the Constitutional Council if it becomes a law because it contradicts the National Pact and Constitution.
Sources from Baabda Palace said Sleiman informed relevant parties over the weekend that the endorsement of the Orthodox proposal would be unacceptable.
Sleiman said that Lebanon was in need of an electoral law that meets the aspirations of the Lebanese and respects the Constitution. “I strictly abide by the Constitution and I oppose anything that widens the sectarian divide in the country,” Sleiman was quoted as saying, according to sources.
But Aoun told a local radio station over the weekend that he would challenge any electoral law Parliament endorses if it was not the Orthodox proposal, explaining that the plan would enhance coexistence and preserve the rights of all sects.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah reiterated Saturday that his party would vote for the Orthodox proposal, saying Hezbollah was convinced that it provided fair representation.
MP Yassin Jaber, from Berri’s bloc, held a similar stance. “If no deal is reached on a new electoral law, then our stance, which is known, is that we will support the Orthodox plan,” he said in remarks published by a local newspaper Sunday.
Marada leader Suleiman Franjieh said his group would vote for the Orthodox proposal as well. “We will vote for the Orthodox proposal in Parliament. It is the best and provides fair representation,” he added after receiving Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan at his Bneshaai residence.
Franjieh argued that the March 14 coalition, particularly the Future Movement, engage in vote-buying schemes during elections. “We seek through this electoral law to reduce the effects of money on us,” he said.
For its part, Future argues that proportional representation could not be applied in light of the fact that Hezbollah possesses arms.
The subcommittee, which includes MPs from the March 8 and the March 14 alliances, held a marathon final session Saturday, but failed to reach an agreement over a law, the task which was assigned to it by joint committees.
The subcommittee discussed five hybrid proposals presented by the Future Movement, Amal, Kataeb, LF and the PSP along with other draft laws.
Fatfat, a member of the subcommittee, said there were common points between the hybrid draft laws of Amal and the LF on one side and the Future Movement and Kataeb on the other.
“The disruption of talks was caused by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement [because they] made no proposals,” he said.
Mikati discussed the electoral law with Berri during a visit Sunday. In separate remarks, Mikati said he was against the 1960 law, which governed the 2009 polls. “[But] my constitutional and legal responsibility obliges me to call for elections, even under the 1960 law, if an agreement is not reached over an electoral law before March 11,” he told an interview by a Jordanian TV station.
Separately, PSP leader Walid Jumblatt returned from a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia where he met with Saudi officials. PSP’s media official could not be reached by The Daily Star.
For his part, Arslan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus Sunday. – Additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab and Hasan Lakkis