BEIRUT: Efforts to reach consensus on an electoral law returned to square one Wednesday after Speaker Nabih Berri withdrew his hybrid proposal, saying it had become a point of contention among rival groups.
After Berri’s move, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah proposed adopting proportional representation with Lebanon as a single district. Nasrallah called on rivals in the March 14 coalition to accept his proposal and prove that they had the support of the majority of the population as they claim.
“My proposal was blasted by the March 8 and March 14 coalitions ... the proposal was unacceptable, it has now become a point of contention,” Berri was quoted as saying to MPs who attended his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his residence in Ain al-Tineh.
“I tell them: You did not accept it and you did not propose another one that could win consensus. I say again, we are left with either the Orthodox proposal or implementing Article 22 of the Constitution,” the speaker continued.
According to Article 22, Parliament would be elected on a non-confessional basis, while a Senate is established in which all the religious communities are represented.
Berri said that the time had come for having a Parliament elected on a non-confessional basis while keeping the equal distribution of seats between Muslims and Christians.
“We are fed up with sectarian draft laws that have been adopted since 1948,” he said.
Berri’s proposal, which he withdrew, calls for 64 lawmakers to be elected based on a winner-takes-all system and 64 to be elected under proportional representation. Those elected under a winner-takes-all system would run in qadas as electoral districts and those under proportional representation would be elected by voters of governorates.
Berri said that his proposal did not give a majority for either group and allowed candidates from a centrist bloc to be elected as well.
“Although no consensus was achieved on this proposal, it made progress because all blocs now accept proportional representation but do not agree on the number [of MPs to be elected based on it],” Berri was quoted as saying.
The Orthodox plan would enable every sect to elect its own MPs under proportional representation, with the entirety of Lebanon as a single district.
Nasrallah said in a televised speech that because Berri had withdrawn his proposal, he believed that having Lebanon as a single district under proportional representation was a fair voting system.
“The proposal for Lebanon as one single district under proportional representation is a fair proposal that achieves equality, national integration, protects the country and prevents the rise of extremists,” Nasrallah said.
“It does not divide the country based on the interests of parties, sects, movements, or families as some people are doing with other electoral proposals,” he added. “Let us sit and discuss the advantages of this draft law on the national level.”
Nasrallah said the Orthodox proposal was still present and had the backing of a majority in Parliament, but added that all political groups were now looking for alternatives.
“The March 14 coalition says it has the support of the majority of population, then let it [join elections] in a law which adopts Lebanon as a single district. Proportional representation allows all sides to be represented based on their size,” Nasrallah said in a challenge to March 14.
Nasrallah dismissed claims that his party was working on delaying elections that are scheduled for June, saying that rivals in Lebanon and some foreign powers had an interest in postponing the polls. “Holding Hezbollah responsible for a [potential delay] in elections is not right. There is a lot of talk about delaying the polls and there are foreign and local forces pushing in the direction of postponement. No one has the courage to say it publicly,” Nasrallah explained. “We, Hezbollah have an interest in holding elections on time under a new law,” he added.
“We do not suffer any financial problems and have no problems with our allies, our situation is good. So why would we want to delay the elections?” he asked.
In an indirect reference to the Future Movement, Nasrallah said that groups interested in delaying the polls were those experiencing financial crises and had cracks in their alliances.
Separately, Berri also met Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour from the Progressive Socialist Party who visited him with a delegation from the party. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Abu Faour said Berri would not allow any law to pass that went against the National Pact in Parliament, in reference to a possible vote on the Orthodox proposal.
“The Orthodox proposal contradicts the National Pact and I don’t think Speaker Berri or any other political group would risk carrying on with a law that enhances divisions among the Lebanese,” Abu Faour said.
Abu Faour said that the PSP was discussing a draft electoral law with the Future Movement that would serve the interests of all political parties. “We are working on having a draft law that provides balance and fair representation for all groups.”
Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said that having Lebanon as one district with proportional representation, which was also proposed by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, did not serve the interests of Christians.
“His [Aoun’s] proposal ... is the worst for Christians, because it allows them to elect only 38 percent of their MPs,” he said. “Aoun wants only to win with his ally Hezbollah.”
The March 14 General Secretariat said after its regular meeting it was satisfied with talks within the March 14 coalition, headed by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, to agree on an electoral law.
Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman discussed with Siniora ongoing efforts to reach an agreement on a modern electoral law that provides fair representation in line with the Constitution and the National Pact, a statement issued from Baabda Palace said. The president also tackled proposed draft electoral laws with former Minister Fouad Butros. Butros headed a commission in 2006 that submitted a proposal combining proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system.