BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement MP Alain Aoun suspended his participation in the subcommittee tasked with studying a new electoral law Thursday while some Christian lawmakers voiced fierce opposition to the Orthodox Gathering proposal.
“I suspended my participation in protest at [lawmakers'] refusal to finalize the minutes of the meeting [and refer it to Parliament] in order to highlight the draft electoral laws that have been agreed on,” Aoun told reporters following the end of the session in Nejmeh Square.
MP Robert Ghanem, the chairman of the subcommittee, said he would finalize and send the minutes of the meeting to Parliament after the second round of Thursday’s session which is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.
For the past three days, lawmakers debated three electoral proposals without reaching consensus on any of them. However, media reports said Thursday that voting took place inside the committee and that the Orthodox Gathering law was the only proposal that received majority of the votes.
The draft law, which has received the backing of most Christian parties including the FPM and the Lebanese Forces, sees Lebanon as one single district based on proportional representation with each sect electing its own MPs.
The Future parliamentary bloc, MP Walid Jumblatt’s party, and President Michel Sleiman have rejected the Orthodox proposal, arguing that such a law would strengthen sectarian divides in the country and allow for the rise of extremists.
Future bloc MP Ahmad Fatfat and Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan commented on Aoun’s suspension, with the former accusing the FPM lawmaker of disrupting the session.
During a chat with reporters, Fatfat said: “Alain Aoun requested that we finalize the minutes of the meeting immediately, refusing to discuss common issues among us. There was an intention to prevent any agreement and he disrupted the session.”
Adwan said that he and Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel attempted to convince Aoun to back down on his decision during a private meeting held between the three.
Meanwhile, some Christian lawmakers blasted the proposal by the Orthodox Gathering proposal, saying in a statement read by March 14 MP Butros Harb that it holds many dangers to the presence of Christians in Lebanon.
“We should be frank with the Lebanese that an electoral law that has each sect electing its own MP will topple the idea of partnership [between Muslim and Christians],” Harb said after a meeting between six lawmakers including MP Dori Chamoun along with eight other Christian figures.
Harb explained that such a law would create a division of power between Shiites, Sunnis and Christians as it would highlight the disparity in number among the sects.
Harb said the law would be “destructive to the Christian presence in Lebanon because it highlights the disparity in the number of Lebanese from each sect and so increases extremism, tearing up the sectarian fabric.”
“This draft law is not that of the Orthodox sect and the Maronite patriarchate did not adopt it,” Harb said.
Both the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party renewed their opposition to the Orthodox Gathering draft law with Future MP Mohammad Qabbani describing it as a “new political system.”
“It is not a new law but it is a new political system that contradicts the constitution and coexistence,” Qabbani said during a news conference in Parliament.
“Our current internal system is based on the Taif Accord which has not been fully implemented therefore moving to a whole new system is not within the prerogative of a subcommittee and cannot be simply voted on during a normal legislative session,” he added.
Fatfat, Future bloc’s representative in the subcommittee, said Thursday that such a proposal is "aimed at inciting strife."
"There is no Christian consensus on that proposal and the president along with some Christian parties has rejected it," Fatfat told reporters before stepping into the subcommittee.
He also voiced his party's opposition to the proposal drafted by the Cabinet and discussed during Wednesday's session saying: "It is malicious without national values."
The Cabinet’s draft law divides Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts based on proportional representation.
Both Future Movement and the PSP are against proportionality but have shown leniency when it comes to the March 14 coalition’s proposal, which divides Lebanon into 50 small districts based on a winner-takes-all system.
The draft law by the March 14 was discussed during Wednesday’s session amid fierce opposition from the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah.
Speaking to reporters prior to the start of Thursday's session, Loyalty to the Resistance MP Ali Fayyad commented on President Michel Sleiman’s opposition to the Orthodox Gathering law.
"It is up to the president to reject the Orthodox Gathering law and it is a mistake to judge the work of the subcommittee now,” Fayyad said.
"That proposal received the highest level of support,” he added.
Media reports said Thursday that Jumblatt's MP Akram Shehayeb was the only lawmaker to vote in favor of the amended 1960s law during the sessions.
The law, amended during the Doha Accord, has been opposed by most of the country's parties.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly welcomed the parliamentary discussions on a new electoral law during his meetings with head of Future parliamentary bloc MP Fouad Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri.
"I warmly welcomed the discussions that are now taking place between the representatives of the different political parties, at the Speaker’s initiative, on the electoral law and underscored the importance of the elections taking place on time in line with Lebanon’s constitutional requirements," Plumbly told reporters after his meeting with Berri.
He added that he also discussed a range of issues in both of these meeting including the ongoing conflict in Syria and its impact on Lebanon, in particular with regard to refugees.