Lebanon News

Parliament mandate likely to be extended for two years

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri receives MP Boutros Harb in Beirut, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

BEIRUT: Parliament’s four-year mandate, which expires June 20, will likely be extended for at least two years, given the rival factions’ inability to agree on a new electoral law, a senior political source said Monday.

“Deep differences over a new electoral law will lead to the extension of Parliament’s mandate for two years as a way out of the electoral deadlock,” the source told The Daily Star.

The source’s remarks came amid warnings that failure to reach a deal on a voting system to govern the June 9 elections would plunge Lebanon into further political malaise.

The bleak prospects for reaching an agreement on a new electoral legislation were evident Monday as some parties stood firm on their support for the controversial Orthodox proposal, while others, notably Speaker Nabih Berri, maintained that a compromise hybrid vote law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system could help break the monthslong stalemate over a voting system.

Despite his support for the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal, Berri ruled out convening a Parliament session in the absence of consensus on a new electoral proposal to govern the upcoming elections.

“Let it be clear that I will not call for a general parliamentary session without a prior consensus [on an electoral law],” Berri said in remarks published by As-Safir and other newspapers Monday.

“I am not a [mere] manager of sessions, but one of the pillars of the National Pact. I take the country’s interest into consideration in any decision I take,” he added.

The speaker was responding to a question on whether he would convene Parliament’s general assembly to vote on the Orthodox proposal, which was approved earlier this month by the joint parliamentary committees.

Rather than narrowing the wide gap over a voting system, the endorsement of the Orthodox draft has deepened political divisions and dented hopes for holding the elections on time. The draft projects Lebanon as a single electoral district in which each sect elects its own lawmakers through a proportional representation voting system.

A source close to Berri insisted that the speaker’s hybrid vote plan, presented by Amal MP Ali Bazzi during the recent meetings of a parliamentary subcommittee, held the key to breaking the deadlock over an electoral law. Berri’s plan calls for 64 lawmakers to be elected based on a winner-takes-all system and another 64 to be elected under a proportional representation system.

Kataeb Party leader ex-President Amin Gemayel sounded downbeat about reaching an agreement on an electoral law. He warned that failure to hold the elections on time would plunge Lebanon into turmoil.

Speaking to reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his party, Gemayel defended the Orthodox proposal, rejecting the argument the controversial draft was at the root of the electoral law crisis.

“Let’s put this law aside. We support holding the elections on time in order to secure a real partnership. The problem is that the political parties are unable to agree on a law that will lead to holding the elections on time,” Gemayel said.

“The country would be left in ruins if the elections were not held on time. We must reach a consensual solution. That’s what we are working on,” Gemayel added.

He said his party was contacting all political parties in an attempt to reach consensus on an electoral law that would reassure everyone of a true representation in Parliament.

Batroun MP Butros Harb, one of the independent March 14 Christian lawmakers who staunchly opposed the Orthodox proposal, said a hybrid law that combines proportional representation with a majority system would be the best solution.

“We should adopt a law that joins both proportional representation and a winner-takes-all-system and does not put elections at risk,” Harb said following talks with Berri.

Harb was among a number of independent Christian lawmakers and politicians who visited Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence for talks on the electoral law.

“We had a very useful meeting with Berri and we held in-depth discussions over the elections,” Harb said. He added that among ideas discussed with the speaker were the adoption of a single district and a hybrid vote system.

Harb said that some parties had reservations about Berri’s proposal and what is required now was to reach a compromise formula over the hybrid law among political rivals.

Metn MP Ibrahim Kanaan from MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement said that no alternative to the Orthodox proposal has been presented yet.

“So far, the only draft law that ensures equal power sharing [between Muslims and Christians] is the Orthodox law. So far, there has been no other proposal that can ensure this equal power sharing,” Kanaan told reporters after meeting Berri at Ain al-Tineh.

Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem, who chaired the parliamentary subcommittee on an electoral law, predicted a postponement of the elections.

A harsh critic of the Orthodox proposal, Ghanem warned that the draft would further deepen sectarian divisions.

“The Orthodox [law] isolates sects from each other, which could cause a civil war,” Ghanem told a news conference in Parliament. “This [Orthodox] proposal clearly contravenes the Lebanese Constitution both in form and in content ... It contradicts the pact of coexistence,” he said.

Noting that the lawmakers have only 10 or 15 days left to reach a deal on an electoral law, he said:

“There is a big possibility that the elections might be postponed in order to reach a consensus on an electoral law within a specified deadline.”

Meanwhile, former Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli, the author of the Orthodox law, defended his proposal, calling it a constitutional bid to boost Muslim-Christian coexistence.

“The Orthodox draft law is constitutional and has more positive [elements] than negative ones, especially since it asserts the partnership between Muslims and Christians,” Ferzli said following a meeting of members of the Orthodox Gathering in Ashrafieh. “We don’t aim at causing sectarian splits among the Lebanese,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 26, 2013, on page 1.

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