BEIRUT: Rival Maronite leaders said Thursday they were open to any proposal that ensured true political representation for Christians, after two days of backlash across the country against the approval of the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal.
The leaders’ stance came in a terse statement issued by the Maronite patriarchate’s office after a previously unannounced meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki.
The meeting was called by Rai in a bid apparently aimed at calming the political storm stirred by the committees’ approval of the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal.
“The participants affirmed their stances and made an assessment of the current stage concerning a new electoral law as a result of the parliamentary committees’ meetings,” the statement said. “They showed openness to any proposal that ensures true representation for all segments of Lebanon according to the provisions of the Constitution,” it added.
The meeting brought together Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, Kataeb Party leader and ex-President Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan representing LF chief Samir Geagea, and Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh. It was also attended by Batroun MP Butros Harb, FPM MP Alain Aoun, Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel, and former ministers Ziyad Baroud and Youssef Saade. Geagea said he was unable to attend for security reasons, the statement said.
The four Maronite parties, backed by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, voted for the proposal during Tuesday’s meeting of the joint committees.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri telephoned Harb in the evening to discuss the “repercussions” of the adoption of the draft electoral law, according to a statement from Hariri’s office.
The Bkirki gathering was preceded by Rai’s visit to Baabda Palace, where the patriarch discussed with President Michel Sleiman the outcry over the Orthodox proposal, which stipulates that each sect elect its own lawmakers on a proportional representation basis. During the meeting, which included a lunch hosted by Sleiman for Rai, the two discussed “national issues,” according to Baabda Palace statement, which gave no further details.
Sleiman, who has rejected the Orthodox proposal, has pledged to challenge it before the Constitutional Council if it is approved by Parliament.
Separately, Geagea conferred by telephone with Rai, Gemayel and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, on the electoral law issue.
During their lengthy phone conversation, Geagea and Siniora agreed on “the need to continue efforts to reach maximum consensus on a new electoral law and keep lines of communications open in order to achieve the desired results at the earliest possible time,” the National News Agency said.
Speaker Nabih Berri, wary of the dire consequences of the split over an electoral law, has said he would hold consultations with all the parties to secure a consensus on a new voting system before convening Parliament.
In addition to Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Hariri, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt and a number of independent March 14 Christian lawmakers have staunchly opposed the Orthodox proposal.
Future and PSP MPs as well as some March 14 MPs walked out of the parliamentary committees’ session when the vote on the Orthodox proposal began.
The endorsement of the draft law drew more fire from independent March 14 Christian lawmakers who warned that it would destroy the Christian presence and sectarian coexistence.
A group of independent Christian lawmakers, including Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, and ex-MPs met at Harb’s residence in Hazmieh to discuss the draft law.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the participants expressed their “deep concerns after the debate on the parliamentary election law deviated from its sound democratic course in searching for the best law that ensures true political representation for all segments of the Lebanese people.”
“By rejecting the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal, independent Christian lawmakers reaffirm their commitment to a united Lebanon and their absolute rejection of exposing the Christian presence in Lebanon to the danger of isolation, seclusion and extremism which contradict Christians’ historic role in the establishment of the state of Lebanon and in their Arab surroundings,” the statement said.
“They stressed their absolute rejection of the Orthodox Gathering’s draft law because it will lead to partitioning and dismembering Lebanon into sectarian mini-states,” it added.
The participants underlined the need for the adoption of an electoral law “to correct popular representation, particularly Christian representation.” They pledged to confront “this dangerous project and prevent its approval in Parliament.”
The Lebanese Communist Party denounced the Orthodox proposal as “a new crime” committed against the country by the “dominant political class, at the forefront of which are the princes of sects.”
A statement issued by the party’s politburo called on people to join the planned demonstration on March 10 from Barbir Square to Parliament, to demand the proposal be dropped and demand a non-sectarian single-district law.
In Tripoli, civil societies and youth groups staged a sit-in outside the municipality building to express their rejection of the Orthodox proposal. They chanted slogans calling for national unity and rejecting confessionalism.
Addressing the protesters, civil society figure Mohammad Deeb said: “What happened in the parliamentary committees was a crime against the Lebanese and national unity which history will not forgive. The conspiracy will not pass.”