BEIRUT: Agreement on a new electoral law for this year’s parliamentary polls appeared as elusive as ever Tuesday as rival political factions stood firm on their conflicting stances on what served as the best legislation that ensured fair representation for all sects.
The wide split over a new election law also manifested itself within a parliamentary subcommittee as representatives from the March 8 and March 14 parties began the second phase of their tough mission by searching for common ground on the legislation.
The feuding parties represented on the subcommittee traded barbs over responsibility for the delay in approving a new electoral law to replace the 1960 system, which has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political divide.
The 1960 law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system, was used in the 2009 parliamentary polls.
President Michel Sleiman, who has staunchly rejected the Orthodox Gathering’s controversial electoral proposal, entered the election fray by renewing his support for the Cabinet’s draft law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-size districts.
In an annual speech at Baabda Palace addressing foreign ambassadors accredited to Lebanon on the occasion of the new year, Sleiman stressed that the parliamentary elections, scheduled in early June, would be held on time in line with “our commitment to our democratic heritage and the principle of peaceful power rotation.”
He urged the rival factions to discuss the Cabinet’s draft electoral law and make any amendments needed.
“As long as we are determined on holding the elections, I call for discussing the draft law put forward by the Cabinet based on proportional representation and introducing necessary amendments if needed,” Sleiman said.
Despite the March 14 boycott of the government and National Dialogue, Sleiman said he would continue to prod the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the opposition March 14 coalition into returning to dialogue aimed at ensuring “a national consensus at this critical stage through which Lebanon and its environs are passing.”
He urged internal and external parties to comply with the Baabda Declaration in order to protect Lebanon against the reverberations of the 22-month-old bloody conflict in Syria.
“Although some internal parties have slid into the violence as a result of the bloody conflict in Syria, members of the National Dialogue Committee were able last year to agree on a statement calling for Lebanon to be neutralized from regional conflicts,” Sleiman said, referring to recurrent clashes between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime in north Lebanon.
The Baabda Declaration, a pact signed by rival political leaders in the March 8 and March coalitions in June 2012, calls for isolating Lebanon from regional conflicts and rejecting the creation of buffer zones and the flow of weapons and fighters from Lebanon to Syria.
Meanwhile, rival March 8 and March 14 lawmakers, members of the parliamentary subcommittee, held two sessions in Parliament Tuesday as they began the second phase of their quest for common ground on a new electoral legislation. The lawmakers will meet again Wednesday.
MP Robert Ghanem, chairman of the subcommittee, handed Speaker Nabih Berri the minutes of last week’s deliberations, which were marked by political differences over a new vote plan for this year’s polls.
Berri is expected to study the subcommittee’s final report on its discussions before deciding on whether to call the joint parliamentary committees to debate and vote on a new electoral proposal reached by the subcommittee.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Berri at his residence in Ain al-Tineh, Ghanem said Berri was open to any proposal the subcommittee might adopt. He added that Berri proposed new ideas for the subcommittee to discuss.
Ghanem said Berri emphasized the importance of the subcommittee continuing its work in an attempt to reach an agreement on an electoral draft law acceptable to all the parties and ensure a just and true representation.
“I discussed with the speaker a mechanism for the subcommittee’s work. He is open to any decision the subcommittee takes with regards to the mechanism of its work,” Ghanem said. “We will rely on God to reach a draft law, that will not be 100 percent fair, but acceptable to all the parties,” he added.
In addition to the Cabinet’s proportional representation draft law, the subcommittee has examined a controversial proposal by the Orthodox Gathering which calls for every sect to elect its own MPs, and 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. During last week’s sessions, six MPs out of the nine subcommittee members supported the Orthodox electoral proposal, which has triggered a nationwide controversy and has been rejected by Sleiman, the Future Movement, MP Walid Jumblatt and some March 14 Christian lawmakers, who warned that the draft would sharpen sectarian divisions and encourage the rise of extremists.
Earlier Tuesday, LF leader Samir Geagea defended the Orthodox proposal, saying that it was the only proposal with a parliamentary majority. He urged the critics of the proposal to come forward with alternatives with sufficient backing.
“We found only the Orthodox draft law, which has a parliamentary majority, after [both] the small district draft law and the Cabinet’s draft law failed to secure a majority,” Geagea told a news conference at his residence in Maarab.
He added that the LF and its March 14 allies had launched talks with various parties in a bid to garner support for the opposition’s proposal based on small districts but failed.
However, Geagea’s allies in the parliamentary Future bloc stood firm on their opposition to the Orthodox proposal, which has been fully supported by the rival Maronite parties in a rare show of Christian unity: The LF, the FPM, the Kataeb Party and Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement.
“The bloc utterly rejects discussing any electoral draft law that runs contrary to the foundations of coexistence among the Lebanese and contravenes the preamble of the Constitution,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting.
“Therefore, the bloc repeats its absolute rejection of the Orthodox Gathering’s draft law ... This proposal turns the Lebanese people into feuding sectarian tribes and deepens divisions among the components of the country,” the statement said. The bloc reiterated its commitment to the Taif Accord as a basis for any solution.
For his part, FPM leader Michel Aoun defended the Orthodox proposal, saying the draft did not contravene the Taif Accord or the Constitution.
“The Orthodox proposal ensures a true and fair representation for all components of the Lebanese people,” Aoun said in an interview with the FPM’s affiliated OTV station Tuesday night. He vowed to challenge any electoral law that does not ensure fair representation.
Aoun complained that under the current political system, the Christians did not have a say in the country’s political decision-making.
“Executive power is in the hands of the Sunnis and legislative power in the hands of the Shiites. Where can the Christians influence things?” Aoun said.
“There is an elimination of the Christians’ [role]. There are 450,000 Christians, more than a third of voters, who cannot elect an MP. They are either deprived or their voice is marginalized,” he added.