BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman broke his silence Thursday on the current heated debate over new electoral legislation, lashing out at ministers who failed to support the Cabinet’s draft law and opted instead to embrace other proposals.
He also took a direct swipe at the country’s rival Maronite parties, which have displayed an unprecedented Christian consensus on the controversial Orthodox Gathering electoral proposal, saying that there can be no Christian consensus without the president.
Sleiman’s tough stance on a new electoral law for this year’s parliamentary polls came during a Cabinet meeting he chaired at Baabda Palace during which he reiterated his support for the government’s draft law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-size districts and urged the ministers to embrace it.
“President Sleiman urged the ministers not to depart from the Cabinet unanimity reached over the issue of an electoral law, while showing understanding toward the stances of the political parties to which the ministers belong,” Information Minister Walid Daouk quoted the president as saying during the Cabinet session.
“It is unacceptable for the ministers to promote via statements and news conferences draft laws different from the one they voted for in the Cabinet without returning to the Cabinet,” Sleiman added.
Ministers from the March 8 alliance, who belong to the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, have voiced support for the Orthodox proposal, while ministers from MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc have backed an amended version of the 1960 law used in the 2009 polls.
Sleiman recalled that the Cabinet last year referred its draft electoral law to Parliament to debate it.
His remarks came as the rival political parties were still sharply split over what would serve as the best legislation to ensure fair representation for all sects.
The outcome of several days of deliberations by a parliamentary subcommittee made up of March 8 and March 14 lawmakers showed support for a proposal presented by the Orthodox Gathering, which projects Lebanon as one single district based on proportional representation with each sect electing its own MPs.
Six MPs out of the nine subcommittee members supported the Orthodox proposal. The six MPs belong to the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party, MP Michel Aoun’s FPM, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
However, the Orthodox proposal has been rejected by Sleiman, the Future Movement, Jumblatt and some March 14 Christian lawmakers, who warned that the draft would sharpen sectarian divisions and encourage the rise of extremists.
The subcommittee has also examined the Cabinet’s draft electoral law and a proposal presented by the LF and the Kataeb Party that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system.
The leaders of the rival Maronite parties – the FPM, the LF, the Kataeb Party and Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement – have fully supported the Orthodox proposal in a rare show of Christian unity.
Addressing the Cabinet session, Sleiman scoffed at the argument by some FPM ministers and lawmakers that the president had departed from Christian consensus by not supporting the Orthodox proposal.
“To say that the president departed from Christian consensus is not true at all. There is no Christian consensus without the consent of the president, particularly when he is not consulted on a certain matter. There are other people as well [who haven’t been consulted],” Sleiman said, according to Daouk. Sleiman’s remarks drew a quick response from Aoun who said that an election law is an issue of political rights stipulated by the Constitution.
“Gen. Aoun would like to clarify that the issue of an election law cannot be treated as an issue of a new law seeking a national consensus. Rather, it is an issue of political rights stipulated by the Constitution,” Aoun said in a statement released by his office.
Sleiman stressed that efforts should be exerted to ensure that the elections, scheduled for early June, should be held on time.
“Everyone must cooperate to find an election law because it is very shameful for the country not to be able to adopt an electoral law for the first time without a [foreign] tutelage,” he said, clearly referring to Syria’s domination of Lebanon for nearly three decades until 2005.
In order to facilitate the work of the joint parliamentary committees studying a new electoral law and approve the state budget, Sleiman said he had signed a decree to open an extraordinary parliamentary session.
The Cabinet approved the allocation of $400,000 to the Interior Ministry to prepare for the parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri pledged to continue his efforts to seek an inter-Lebanese consensus on a new electoral law. He said he had supported the 1960 law, which adopts the qada as the electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system, when there was a Christian consensus on it in Doha, Qatar, in 2008.
“Now, I am not standing against the Orthodox draft law. But there is a very sensitive and important point. What I am seeking is to reach a consensus among the Lebanese. I will continue my efforts for this purpose until the last minute,” Berri said during a meeting with a delegation of the consular corps led by Joseph Habeis.
Berri met at his residence in Ain al-Tineh with Batroun MP Butros Harb with whom he discussed efforts to reach an agreement on a new electoral law. Harb is one of independent March 14 lawmakers who have slammed the Orthodox proposal, warning that it threatened the Christians’ role in Lebanon.
Former President Amin Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party, renewed the party’s support for the Orthodox proposal.
During a meeting with a delegation from the Journalists’ Union led by its chairman Elias Aoun, Gemeyal urged critics of the Orthodox proposal “to find an alternative draft law that can ensure a true representation of the Christians.”