BEIRUT: Energy Minister Gebran Bassil defended the Orthodox Gathering electoral proposal Sunday, responding to its critics and saying his party will challenge any law that fails to ensure Christian representation.
“The Orthodox Gathering law guarantees equality and encourages voters to participate in the voting process … it is our only proposal,” Bassil said during a news conference in his Rabieh residence.
He added that the Constitution guarantees partnership and Christians will not accept anything less.
Bassil also responded to opponents of the electoral proposal, which calls on every sect to elect its own MPs, saying that his allies in the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition have agreed to support the draft law.
“Whoever wants to disrupt the [approval of this proposal] opposes partnership, and they are the Future Movement because their main aim is exclusion via money and politics,” Bassil said, adding that such a law would limit the use of what he described as his rivals’ “political money.”
Last week, rival Christian parties agreed to back the controversial proposal calling for each sect to elect its own parliamentarian on the eve of the subcommittee’s first meeting.
The draft law, however, has come under fire from Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt, the Future parliamentary bloc and some Christian lawmakers who have said such a proposal would strengthen sectarian divides in the country and allow for the rise of extremists.
President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati were also among the opponents of the draft law which has Lebanon as a single district under a system of proportional representation.
Bassil said Jumblatt, who describes himself as centrist politician, objects to the law so as to maintain the power to form a coalition government.
He also slammed the independent Christians who have voiced their opposition to the controversial proposal, describing them as "the Godfathers of betrayal."
Bassil noted that the reason for their opposition "is that each of them represents their town or area and in a larger district, they no longer appear on the map. Therefore, they’re looking for their place [in Parliament].”
During his chat with reporters, Bassil warned that his party “will challenge any law that does not secure the right Christian representation.”
In an interview with An-Nahar published Sunday, Bassil described the proposal as a strategic draft law that emphasizes the need to secure the support of its opponents.
“The proposal is the minimum that we will accept and why back down when we have achieved a majority support for it? Our goal is to have those who reject it such as Future Movement and Progressive Socialist Party support it,” Bassil told the local daily.
He added that the parliamentary subcommittee studying a new electoral law for this year’s polls revealed that the proposal has the backing of most Christian parties.
“There is something that has been recorded in the minutes of the meeting [in the subcommittee]: the majority of Christians agreed on the Orthodox Gathering along with Hezbollah and Amal Movement i.e. the Shiites,” the minister said.
“And now we seek the Sunni and Druze consensus because that draft law grants them their rights wherein no Christian MP would take the seat of a Sunni or Druze,” he noted.
Bassil also said that the draft law secures the best representation for Christians, saying: “This is a strategic issue not only for Christians in Lebanon but also in the East and not only for Muslims but for the whole idea of coexistence and diversity in the East.”
Asked about Sleiman’s pledge to challenge the Orthodox Gathering law, Bassil voiced doubt that the president would oppose an issue that has received Christian consensus.
"I don't believe that he rejects the proposal unless I hear it directly from him. And then he will be held responsible for missing an opportunity such as this one or hurting a consensus rarely reached by Christians on something so fundamental,” he said.
“No, I don't believe the president would do such a thing.”
The subcommittee also looked at two other proposals, including one by the Cabinet which is also based on proportionality and divides Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts, and a draft law proposed by the March 14 coalition based on a majority system with Lebanon divided into 50 small districts.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Maronite Beshara Rai urged politicians to rid themselves of their personal and party interests in order to have an electoral law that best represents Lebanon's various sects.
During his Sunday sermon in Bkirki, the head of the Maronite church said politicians should free themselves from "their personal and party interests," to implement an electoral law.
"These days where talks center on approving a new electoral law that surpasses the 1960s one, all of Lebanon's components should free themselves from their personal and party interests and seeking to dominate others along with the decision-making process," Rai said.
He noted that the basis of any electoral law should be Article 24 of the Constitution which stipulates partnership between Christians and Muslims as well as proportionality in representation for sects and regions.
"What is needed is to reach a law that best represents in a fair and safe manner all Lebanese sects where a citizen practices their electoral right and votes for another that represent them ... and feels that they can hold them accountable and not [an MP] that was imposed on them,” he added.