BEIRUT: Lawmakers in the joint parliamentary committees discussing electoral drafts approved Tuesday the controversial Orthodox Gathering proposal following a walk-out by MPs from the Future Movement and Progressive Socialist Party.
“Democracy has triumphed over intimidation and we have adopted the Orthodox Gathering law,” Free Patriotic Movement MP Alain Aoun said following the vote on the controversial voting system.
While supported by March 8 and March 14 Christian political parties, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, the Orthodox proposal is opposed by the Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, the prime minister and president and a number of Christian lawmakers.
Prior to Aoun’s announcement, Future Movement and PSP MPs withdrew from the session, the former over the turning down of a request to delay the vote, and the latter in a principled stance against the controversial draft.
"We withdrew from the session after our request to defer the vote on the Orthodox proposal for 48 hours was turned down,” MP Ahmad Fatfat, flanked by his Future Movement colleagues, told reporters after leaving the session.
Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri, responding to the developments in Parliament, slammed the decision by the committees, describing it as a “black day” for Parliament.
“The approval of the Orthodox Gathering proposal in the joint committees is a black day in the history of legislative work,” he said in a Twitter post.
Speaking to reporters in Parliament, PSP MP Akram Shehayeb said he pulled out of the session due to his party’s “clear stance on the Orthodox law” and warned that it would only lead to “political violence.”
MP Butros Harb , an independent Christian lawmaker and staunch critic of the proposal, also withdrew from the session before the vote.
He lashed out at the March 8 coalition, accusing it of monopolizing the people’s decision.
“The majority is practicing despotism in the joint committees and we will not be subjected to such dictatorship,” he said.
The Orthodox Gathering draft, which projects Lebanon as a single district wherein each sect elects its own representatives under a proportional representation system, requires a vote in Parliament’s General Assembly before it can be adopted as a voting system for the upcoming elections.
“We finished the first stage in adopting our [Orthodox] proposal for the upcoming elections, but we still have the second stage, which will be during a parliamentary session,” Aoun said.
President Michel Sleiman has warned that he will challenge the draft should it be passed by Parliament.
The approval of the divisive law at the level of the joint committees comes days after the interior minister warned the elections risk being delayed if a voting system is not endorsed in the coming days.
Several of the March 14 members of the joint committees signaled that the approval of the Orthodox law was not the end of the road for reaching a consensus on an alternative voting system.
Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan and Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel said, in separate talks to reporters, following the vote Tuesday that the approval of the Orthodox law did not necessarily mean it would be used in the upcoming polls.
“The doors of communication to reach a new electoral law have not closed and will not close,” said Adwan.
“We are definitely in front of a new stage but we interpret it as a natural stage in the search for a better electoral law,” he said, adding: “The opportunity to reach a new electoral law remains there.”
Gemayel, for his part, said that his party would maintain contacts to discuss the possibility of reaching a consensus-based law.
“We will keep the channels of communications open with all parties on condition that one standard, that of fair representation [for Christians], is respected,” he said.
Shehayeb said that “even if the Orthodox proposal is approved by the joint committees, this doesn’t have to be the case in the General Assembly.”
Fatfat said that his party had made several attempts to find an exit to what it sees as an electoral crisis.
However, he added, none of the initiatives put forward were met with a positive response.
Despite this, Fatfat said the possibility existed for reaching a consensus over another electoral law.
“We will keep communications with all sides in a bid to reach a deal on an electoral law,” said Fatfat.
Ahead of the session, Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad blasted the Future Movement for threatening to pull out of the session and said their behavior undermined the “positive” atmosphere that dominated during Monday’s session.
On Monday, the joint committees, which included participation by the Future Movement, voted for an article in the Orthodox proposal calling for the number of MPs to be increased from 128 to 134.
The meetings of the joint committees came after a parliamentary subcommittee failed in several rounds of marathon talks in the past few weeks to reach a consensus on any hybrid vote law to end the months-long deadlock over a new electoral law.
The OTV television channel reported that FPM leader MP Michel Aoun called LF leader Samir Geagea, Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel and Cardinal Beshara Rai to congratulate them on the joint committees’ vote in favor of the Orthodox proposal.
Following his weekly meeting with FPM lawmakers, Aoun also described the vote as an “achievement.”
“Today is the brightest day in Lebanon's history because rights were returned to their owners without encroaching on the rights of others,” said Aoun.
“The value of the votes of marginalized groups has been restored. That is why we are happy with this achievement,” he said.
Change and Reform bloc MP Neamatallah Abi Nasr said in Parliament that an article that grants Lebanese expatriates the right to vote in the upcoming elections was added to the Orthodox law, a move that he described as unprecedented.
“We added an article to the proposal that will allow Lebanese expats to vote in the elections,” said Abi Nasr.
“This is the first time that this has happened ever since Lebanon gained independence [in 1946],” said Abi Nasr.