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MPs to open discussions on hybrid electoral law

Lawmakers meet to discuss a new electoral law in Parliament, Beirut, on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Lawmakers from the March 8 and March 14 parties will resume discussions Monday on a hybrid election law that combines proportional representation and a winner-takes-all system.

The proposal is only the latest bid to narrow the wide gap over which legislation best guarantees fair representation for all sects. However, the chances of the hybrid vote law being adopted by the parliamentary subcommittee tasked with exploring a new electoral law appeared to be slim given the Future Movement’s fierce opposition to any system based on proportional representation.

Six of the nine lawmakers making up the parliamentary subcommittee have voiced support for the Orthodox Gathering’s controversial proposal after the subcommittee failed to reach an agreement on a united voting system.

Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad, a member of the subcommittee, said the Orthodox proposal had so far been the panel’s “major achievement.”

“The subcommittee will move Monday to the second phase of its work by seeking to find a consensus on a single election system,” Fayyad told The Daily Star.

“We’re done with the Orthodox proposal, which has mustered the largest support within the subcommittee. The subcommittee’s discussions have resulted in supporting the Orthodox proposal as an election law formula,” said Fayyad, whose party has supported both the Orthodox proposal and the Cabinet’s draft electoral law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-sized districts.

He added that the subcommittee’s members would have to answer three questions relating to the hybrid vote draft proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri as a way out to break the current deadlock over a new election law.

The questions, according to Fayyad, are: “First, what is your stance on the size of electoral districts under a proportional representation system or a winner-takes-all system? Second, what is your stance on the distribution of [parliamentary] seats divided between the proportional representation and a winner-takes-all system and what criteria are to be followed in this distribution? And third, what is your stance on the key vote, will it be one or two votes?

“These are technical discussions concerning the hybrid vote formula proposed by Speaker Berri,” Fayyad said.

Future bloc MP Ahmad Fatfat, a subcommittee member, said his bloc opposed any system based on proportional representation.

Asked whether his bloc was ready to accept Berri’s hybrid vote proposal, Fatfat told The Daily Star: “We will be discussing this proposal among other proposals, but we are against any proportional representation system.”

Fatfat, whose bloc has staunchly rejected the Orthodox proposal and the Cabinet’s draft electoral law, said the Future Movement supported the 50 small district proposal presented by the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party.

“The small district proposal can serve as a springboard for searching for an electoral law,” he said.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who heads the parliamentary Future bloc, was reported after meeting Berri last week to have expressed his bloc’s willingness to discuss the hybrid vote proposal.

Future bloc MP Serge Torsarkissian, a subcommittee member, said Berri was trying to find an electoral draft law that can win a consensus of all the parties.

In an interview with Future Television, he said the subcommittee would delve in the next three days into “core issues” concerning a new electoral law.

“We are still in the phase of studying specific criteria and later [trying] to reach a specific understanding on the criteria in order to delve later into the issue of districts, which is one of the thorniest issues,” Torsarkissian said. “Berri always prefers a consensus on all matters ... Therefore, the will is there to achieve results as soon as possible, but there are many obstacles ahead.”

Hezbollah’s Fayyad said the party would announce its position on the hybrid vote proposal at the end of the subcommittee’s discussions. Asked what chance the plan had, he replied: “It is one of the formulas that will be discussed seriously.”

March 14 MP Robert Ghanem, the chairman of the subcommittee who has strongly rejected the Orthodox proposal, said the plan might be challenged by the Constitutional Council if it was approved by Parliament.

“The Orthodox proposal has won a majority [within the subcommittee], but it has also sparked opposition from major political blocs,” he told MTV Sunday night.

The Orthodox proposal, which projects Lebanon as one single district based on proportional representation with each sect electing its own lawmakers, has triggered a nationwide controversy.

The proposal has also been rejected by President Michel Sleiman, the Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt and independent March 14 Christian lawmakers, who warned that the draft would sharpen sectarian divisions and encourage the rise of extremists. Sleiman has pledged to challenge the proposal if it is enacted by Parliament.

The leaders of the rival Maronite parties – The Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party, MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement – have fully embraced the Orthodox draft, in an unprecedented show of Christian consensus.

Earlier Sunday, Fayyad said the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and the FPM would reject any draft law for this year’s parliamentary polls if it was not based on proportional representation.

“We in March 8 and the FPM are not willing to approve any law that does not endorse proportional representation,” he said in a speech in south Lebanon.

Fayyad said that the Christian voters had concerns over choosing the right candidates, arguing that proportional representation was the only way to secure real parliamentary representation for Christians.

But Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel, a member of the subcommittee, warned against proportional representation, arguing that it contradicted equal power sharing between the sects.

“Proportional representation is dangerous because it brings Lebanon back to the logic of demography. Therefore, we reject this logic because we believe that Lebanon is based on equal power sharing,” Gemayel told a news conference in Bikfaya. “Proportional representation runs contrary to equal power sharing.”

“We want an election law that can achieve two goals: a true representation for everyone and maintaining equal power sharing between Christians and Muslims,” he said.

Gemayel added that his party approved proportional representation within the Orthodox proposal because it secured Muslim-Christian equal sharing: “We only approved proportional representation within the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal because such proposal secures equal power sharing.”

Meanwhile, Aoun slammed Jumblatt for opposing the Orthodox proposal. He said the proposal would restore the Christians’ rights.

Responding to Jumblatt who had described the debate over the Orthodox proposal as part of “an unprecedented campaign of isolationist outbiddings,” Aoun said: “If we want to talk about isolationists, he [Jumblatt] is the leader of the isolationist association in Lebanon.”

Aoun argued that thousands of Christians who live in the Druze predominated Chouf area could not make their votes count.

“Does Jumblatt want to deny the rights of 110,000 Christians residing in Aley and the Chouf regions?” he asked.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 21, 2013, on page 2.

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