BEIRUT: Shiite religious leaders joined the Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and some March 14 Christian politicians in rejecting the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral proposal Friday, warning that the controversial draft would deepen sectarian divisions in an already-tense country.
The Orthodox proposal, which projects Lebanon as one single district based on proportional representation with each sect electing its own MPs, has also been rejected by President Michel Sleiman, who has vowed to challenge it if it is enacted by Parliament.
Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, deputy head of the Higher Shiite Council, urged the adoption of a law that makes no religious distinctions for this year’s crucial parliamentary polls.
Speaking during his weekly sermon, he demanded that Lebanon be declared a single electoral district based on proportional representation.
“We want a democratic [electoral] law that will not distinguish between Muslims and Christians whereby all the Lebanese can elect their representatives in Parliament,” Qabalan said.
“But for a Shiite to elect a Shiite representative, a Christian to elect a Christian representative and a Druze to elect a Druze representation – this will not be an election law. Rather, it is a law tailored to the size of some,” he added, in a clear reference to the Orthodox proposal.
A similar view was echoed by senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Ali Fadlallah, who called for the adoption of an electoral law to defuse sectarian tensions in the country.
“It is the right of the Lebanese who are aspiring for a real spring to have an election law that befits their future and the future of the Lebanese generations who are aspiring to pull the country out of sectarian and confessional crisis,” Fadlallah said in his Friday sermon at the Imam Hassanein Mosque in the southern Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik.
Fadlallah, the son of the late prominent Shiite scholar Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, stressed that a new law should lead to the “election of real representatives of the people, rather than to fulfilling private aspirations or cementing the sectarian and confessional situation at the expense of national cohesion.”
Qabalan’s and Fadlallah’s stances were in sharp contrast with the positions of the two main Shiite parties, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, which, according to Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun have supported the Orthodox proposal.
The Orthodox draft law, which has evoked a nationwide controversy, causing a split within the opposition March 14 coalition, has won a rare Christian consensus among the four rival parties: The FPM, the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party and Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement.
The leaders of the four parties met with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki Friday to review efforts aimed at agreeing on a new electoral law.
The meeting came as a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with studying a new electoral law wrapped up four days of deliberations on three conflicting draft laws, including the Orthodox law.
In addition to the Orthodox proposal, the subcommittee, made up of MPs from the March 8 and March 14 parties, examined two other proposals for this year’s polls: A draft law presented by the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system, and the Cabinet’s draft law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-sized electoral districts.
Friday saw more March 14 Christian and Muslim lawmakers slamming the Orthodox proposal.
“Independent [March 14] lawmakers have voiced reservations over the so-called Orthodox Gathering’s draft law because a mistake cannot be rectified with a mistake,” Beirut MP Michel Pharaon said in a statement. Pharaon, from the March 14 coalition, said the small district draft law presented by the LF and the Kataeb Party was the best choice for this year’s elections.
Beirut MP Nadim Gemayel, also from March 14, blasted the Orthodox proposal as the worst draft electoral law. “It is Rustum Ghazaleh’s law. It is a law that harms the Christians,” he said in an interview with LBCI, referring to the former chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon.
Future bloc MP Amin Wehbe, from the Western Bekaa, said the Orthodox proposal contravened the Constitution.
“The Orthodox draft law will divide society and threaten the Christian role in the Levant. It also runs contrary to the Taif Accord and it proposes proportional representation,” he told the Free Lebanon radio station.
Future Movement official and Tripoli MP Samir Jisr said his parliamentary bloc was surprised to see their Christian allies, the LF and the Kataeb Party, adopting the proposal.
“We considered their support [for the Orthodox proposal] as a departure from an understanding on this issue. Our stance is firm on an election law, which is to uphold the Taif Accord,” Jisr told Al-Sharq radio station.
A statement issued by Future Movement and Progressive Socialist Party officials in south Lebanon rejected the Orthodox proposal, saying the draft law would turn Lebanon into “communities, with some becoming masters and others slaves.”
“This draft law essentially challenges the Taif Accord ... and leads Lebanon to isolation,” it said.