BEIRUT: Lawmakers kicked off a long-awaited discussion on an electoral law for the upcoming parliamentary polls Tuesday as Christian MPs entered the debate with a rare consensus on the controversial Orthodox proposal.
Tight security was in place in Central Beirut’s Nejmeh Square and surrounding areas, as ten lawmakers representing the country's wide political spectrum made their way to Parliament. Several of the MPs are staying at the Etoile Hotel for their safety.
The session began around 10:30 a.m. and ended four and half hours later and will resume later this afternoon at 5 p.m.
Following the end of the first half of the session, the head of the subcommittee MP Robert Ghanem said there were several common factors among the draft electoral laws presented and that the contents of the meetings should remain confidential.
“We have skimmed through the draft laws during the meeting and the door remains open in the face of all proposals and there are commonalities among all the proposals,” Ghanem told reporters.
He also said that another meeting will take place Wednesday at 10:30 p.m.
Ghanem also asked the media to refrain from asking MPs about the details of the meetings.
“We will not discuss further details because there is an agreement on keeping the deliberations confidential,” he added.
During the meeting, MPs discussed the possibility of increasing the number of lawmakers in Parliament.
Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel suggested an increase of the number of Druze seats in the 128-member Parliament. He also proposed allocating seats to the Syriac community.
His proposal will be studied in Wednesday’s session.
Upon arrival at the square, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said his party would support the Orthodox Gathering proposal if the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance agreed to it.
“We will support it if March 8 does so,” Adwan told reporters, referring to Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
Christian parties in the March 8 and the March 14 coalitions agreed Monday to support a draft law presented by the Orthodox Gathering which calls for every sect to elect its own parliamentarians.
The proposal treats Lebanon as a single district.
However, Future Movement and MP Walid Jumblatt’s party have rejected the proposal, with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora saying it encourages extremists and contributes to sectarian divisions.
“When we give approval for each sect electing its own representatives, we will be giving a chance to extremists from each group to use their opinions in an attempt to win the people’s sympathy. Therefore, we will be prescribing a fast recipe for a further clash among the Lebanese,” Siniora, the head of the Future Movement Parliamentary bloc, told MTV Monday night.
Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah have voiced a similar stance on the draft, with the former backing “any law that Christians agree on.”
“I will not oppose the Orthodox Gathering proposal if it gets a Christian consensus, regardless of my opinion,” Berri, said in remarks published Tuesday in As-Safir.
All parties, aside from Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, have rejected the use of the 1960 law.
MPs from the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement met Monday night at the home of Energy Minister Gebran Bassil in Rabieh to coordinate their stances ahead of the parliamentary subcommittee’s meeting.
Al-Manar television quoted a source in the parliamentary majority as saying: “Our stance is to support proportional representation, but we will accept what is accepted by the FPM. Therefore, we stand with the FPM even with the Orthodox draft law.”
Jumblatt, however, warned Tuesday against the adoption of the Orthodox Gathering proposal, describing it as a “risky adventure.”
“Adopting the Christian proposal has many risks that would lead to extremism and isolation of sects,” Jumblatt, who also spoke to As-Safir, said.
Jumblatt also said that the Christian proposal jeopardizes coexistence and the Taif Accord.
The subcommittee is discussing three main proposals: one drafted by the Cabinet based on proportional representation which divides Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts, another by the March 14 group based on a majority-system with 50 small districts, and that drafted by the Orthodox Gathering.
MPs within March 14 have said that their safety is at risk and asked to be moved to a hotel near Parliament until they finalize discussions.