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Some March 14 Christians reject Orthodox vote plan

  • Lebanese Water and Energy Minister Jibran Bassil, left, lawmaker Robert Ghanem, center, and lawmaker Hikmat Dib, attend a parliament session in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday Sept. 15, 2011.

BEIRUT: The controversial Orthodox proposal drew more fire from March 14 Christian politicians Wednesday, casting doubts on adopting it in this year’s polls, as rival March 8 and March 14 lawmakers held yet another round of talks on a new electoral law.

In addition to President Michel Sleiman’s pledge to challenge the Orthodox proposal, which calls for every sect to elect its own MPs in this year’s crucial parliamentary elections, Wednesday saw an outpouring of statements, mainly by March 14 Christian politicians rejecting the proposal, with some saying it threatened the presence of Christians in Lebanon.

The lawmakers from the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the rival March 14 coalition, part of a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with studying a new electoral law, debated Wednesday morning a draft law put forward by the March 14 Christian parties that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system, a day after examining the Orthodox proposal.

The MPs also held an evening session where they mulled the Cabinet’s draft electoral law, which has been rejected outright by the opposition March 14 coalition. The Cabinet’s draft law is based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-sized electoral districts.

During the parliamentary subcommittee’s morning session, chaired by March 14 MP Robert Ghanem, March 8 MPs rejected the proposal for 50 small electoral districts.

Hezbollah’s MP Ali Fayyad said the 1960 law used in the 2009 elections is worse than the 50-district draft law. He said his party and the Amal Movement rejected the 50-district draft law.

“The 50-district draft law is rejected in form and substance. The 1960 law is worse than the 50-district formula,” Fayyad told reporters after the morning session held amid tight security in Parliament. He stressed the need for an election law that can safeguard sectarian coexistence.

MP Alain Aoun from the Free Patriotic Movement voiced a similar view. “The [50-district] law is not designed to serve the interests of Christians but the interests of specific political parties,” he told reporters, in a clear reference to the FPM’s Christian rivals, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party.

Aoun, whose party strongly supported the Orthodox electoral proposal, described the subcommittee’s discussions as “frank and serious,” saying that the divisive issues are related to partnership and sectarian coexistence in the country. Ghanem said an election law was one of the pillars of national reconciliation in the country that reflected sectarian coexistence. “I can confirm that all the parties without exception are making their efforts so that we can come up with proposals acceptable to all without excluding any segment of the society.”

Future bloc MP Ahmad Fatfat, a subcommittee member whose bloc has rejected both the government’s proportional representation draft law and the Orthodox proposal, voiced doubts that the Orthodox draft would gain Christian unanimity.

Referring to Sleiman and March 14 politicians who have rejected the Orthodox proposal, Fatfat said: “Are those who are opposing the Orthodox proposal Christians? There is a group [of Christian figures] whose opinions should be taken into account. Therefore, will this [Orthodox] draft law gain Christian unanimity or not?”

MP Akram Shehayeb, a subcommittee member who belongs to Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, said the Progressive Socialist Party was ready to discuss an electoral majority system, reiterating opposition to proportional representation.

“We still support the 1960 law formulated in Doha,” Shehayeb told reporters in Parliament, referring to the amended 1960 law that was agreed on in the Doha Accord in 2008 and used in the 2009 polls. “But we are ready to discuss any proposal that is based on a winner-takes-all system.”

Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel, a subcommittee member, said he expected the lawmakers to wrap up the discussions Friday unless new proposals are put forward.

Gemayel’s Kataeb Party along with the Lebanese Forces, and their Christian rivals, MP Michel Aoun’s FPM and Zghorta MP Sleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement, have voiced full support for the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal. The unprecedented Christian consensus has raised the stakes of the Orthodox proposal.

However, the proposal has come under fire by Sleiman, the parliamentary Future bloc, Jumblatt and some March 14 Christian politicians.

They argue that such a law would strengthen sectarian divides in the country and allow for the rise of extremists.

In remarks published Wednesday, Sleiman vowed to challenge the Orthodox proposal because it contravened with the Constitution.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati also voiced concerns over the proposal, saying it would eliminate equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians in the country and open the way for a tripartite system.

Addressing a Cabinet meeting he chaired at the Grand Serail, Mikati said the parliamentary elections, scheduled in early June, would be held on time.

He defended the Cabinet’s proportional representation draft law: “We believe that this draft law can achieve its basic aim of [ensuring] a true representation for all groups ... However, we are open to all suggestions in order to produce an election law on which the Lebanese agree.”

Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, who was supposed to chair the parliamentary subcommittee, lashed out at the Orthodox proposal, labeling it as an “unforgivable sin.”

While acknowledging the Christian parties which have supported the Orthodox proposal, Makari, a Greek Orthodox, said: “But there is a large spectrum of Christians, including independent politicians or members of other parties, who do not support this draft law.”

March 14 MP Butros Harb said he had told Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai that he rejected the Orthodox proposal and the proportional representation system.

“The Orthodox Gathering’s proposal threatens the unity of Lebanon and the Christian presence and the Christians’ effective role in it,” Harb said in a statement.

Also Wednesday, the Maronite bishops called for a new election law to replace the 1960 law which was based on a winner-takes-all system. They also reiterated the call for the formation of a new Cabinet to oversee the parliamentary elections.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 10, 2013, on page 1.
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