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Proponents of Orthodox proposal seek alternative to break deadlock
President Amin Gemayel. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
President Amin Gemayel. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
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BEIRUT: The controversial Orthodox plan seemed to be running out of steam Sunday as its main Maronite backers were searching for consensus on a new electoral law to break the monthslong deadlock over a voting system.

Last week’s approval by Parliament’s joint committees of the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal has deepened political divisions and diminished the chances for holding the June 9 polls on time.

The calls for finding an alternative electoral law have been made even by rival Maronite leaders who fully supported the Orthodox plan, which allows each sect to elect its own MPs based on proportional representation with Lebanon as a single electoral district.

Kataeb Party leader ex-President Amin Gemayel said he was consulting with the various parties to reach a consensus on a new electoral law that would secure the best Christian representation.

Also, the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party, which staunchly rejected the Orthodox proposal, were reported to be working together to draft a new electoral law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system.

PSP leader MP Walid Jumblatt said Speaker Nabih Berri was anxious to see rival political parties reach consensus on a new electoral law.

Speaking in an interview with Al-Jazeera channel Sunday, Jumblatt said he had “information indicating that Speaker Nabih Berri will not allow the approval of the Orthodox Gathering law, which calls for each sect to elect its own representatives, because the main components of the Lebanese people are absent from it.”

“Berri is keen on accord in Lebanon,” Jumblatt said.

In remarks published by An-Nahar newspaper Sunday, the PSP chief said: “We and the Future Movement are coordinating together with a view to reaching a consensus draft law.”

Gemayel, while defending the party’s support for the Orthodox proposal, said he was consulting with all the parties to reach consensus on an alternative law that would ensure true Christian representation. “We are constantly moving and consulting with everyone,” he told An-Nahar newspaper, adding that his party was willing to discuss hybrid electoral proposals.

He said he was open to proposals presented by his son, Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel, during the meetings of a parliamentary subcommittee, which called for dividing Lebanon into 50 small districts, or a hybrid draft law that would allow 40 percent of MPs to be elected under a proportional representation system with the rest under a winner-takes-all system.

“There are two main goals that any new electoral law must meet: First, it must secure the best Christian representation possible after the decades of neglect, oppression and marginalization of Christians ... Second, the law should win the widest support in Parliament, particularly from the country’s main components,” Gemayel said.

Although the Orthodox draft was approved by the joint parliamentary committees last week, it still requires a vote in Parliament’s general assembly and the endorsement by the president before it can be adopted as a voting system for the upcoming elections.

The Kataeb Party and the Lebanese Forces, along with their Maronite rivals the Free Patriotic Movement and the Marada Movement, have thrown their support behind the Orthodox proposal, which was also backed by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.

Following their meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki last week, rival Maronite leaders said they were open to any plan that ensured true Christian representation.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who along with President Michel Sleiman and independent March 14 Christian lawmakers rejected the Orthodox proposal, ruled out the possibility of adopting the controversial draft for the polls.

“The Orthodox proposal for the parliamentary elections cannot pass because it violates the essence of Lebanon’s existence and [sectarian] coexistence,” Mikati said via Twitter.

Opponents of the Orthodox plan say the draft is unconstitutional and will deepen sectarian divisions. Sleiman has pledged to challenge the proposal in court if it is enacted by Parliament.

In another tweet, Mikati called on all rivals to agree on another law that safeguards the country’s coexistence. “We must all think of ways to achieve real representation for all Lebanese sects through reaching an agreement on an electoral law that does not harm coexistence,” the post read.

Hezbollah’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish implicitly accused the March 14 parties of seeking to prevent the elections being held on time. “Delaying the discussion and approval of an election law means there is an intention to prevent holding the elections. Those doing this and those obstructing the parliamentary sessions must bear responsibility,” he told a rally in the southern town of Deir Qanoun al-Nahr.

Fneish said that despite the endorsement of the Orthodox proposal, there was still “a chance to reach a consensual electoral law to hold the elections on time.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 25, 2013, on page 1.
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