BEIRUT: A parliamentary panel tasked with devising a new electoral law appeared Monday to be marking time after two lawmakers announced the death of a hybrid vote proposal that could have broken the deadlock over which legislation best ensures fair representation for all sects.
The remarks by Free Patriotic Movement MP Alain Aoun and MP Akram Shehayeb from Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc cast doubts about the parliamentary subcommittee’s ability to narrow differences over a new electoral law for this year’s polls following several rounds of talks.
The subcommittee, which includes MPs from the March 8 and March 14 parties, met Monday to examine a hybrid vote proposal that combines proportional representation and a winner-takes-all system. However, statements made by subcommittee members after the meeting clearly indicated that the gap was still very wide over a new electoral legislation.
The hybrid vote law was proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri as a way out of the current stalemate over reaching a consensus by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the opposition March 14 coalition on a new election law to replace the 1960 vote system, which has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political spectrum.
“As a result of the meetings that have been held so far, I announce with deep regret the death of our precious hybrid system, especially after it appeared from the discussions and the answers given to the subcommittee that the positions are still very different,” Aoun, a subcommittee member, told reporters after the subcommittee’s meeting in Parliament.
“Discussions are ongoing between those who want a real representation and those who aim to represent the others in Parliament ... The gap today is very wide. It turned out that this hybrid system probably will not be the solution,” Aoun said.
“Therefore, discussions should move to a serious phase. No matter what we do, in the end we will only have the Orthodox draft law as a solution,” he added, referring to the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal which calls for each sect to elect its own lawmakers under a system of proportional representation with Lebanon as a single district. Shehayeb, whose party has rejected both the Orthodox proposal and Cabinet’s draft electoral law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-sized districts, renewed the Progressive Socialist Party’s demand for the creation of a senate and implementation of administrative decentralization.
“Following the death of the 1960 law and the hybrid system and after the Orthodox proposal was stillborn, I stress that what is needed is to move forward to reach common denominators,” said Shehayeb, a subcommittee member. “We hope to reach an [electoral] law that is fair to everyone and that the elections will be held on time ... So far, [the parties] are still very far apart in their opinions.”
Berri’s proposal came after the controversial Orthodox proposal had been rejected by President Michel Sleiman and major political parties, like the Future Movement, Jumblatt and independent March 14 Christian lawmakers, who warned that the draft would sharpen sectarian divisions and encourage the rise of extremists.
MP Robert Ghanem, the chairman of the subcommittee who has strongly rejected the Orthodox proposal, said the panel was still trying to reconcile the parties’ conflicting positions on a new electoral law. He added that the subcommittee heard the MPs’ answers to the hybrid vote law.
“We held in-depth discussions and what can be done to narrow differences,” Ghanem told reporters after the morning session. “The attitude of each party toward an election law is known in advance. The subcommittee’s work is aimed at seeking a consensus.”
Referring to the Christian parties’ demand for an electoral law that can guarantee a true representation of the Christians, Ghanem said: “The Christians are not demanding their rights in order to cause damage to others. God willing, we will reach an [electoral] law that is fair to everyone and can guarantee the right of representation of citizens equally.”
“The presence [of the subcommittee] is essentially to reach common ground to [produce] an election law on which the Lebanese agree and be fair and just to all the sects,” Ghanem said.
He added that the MPs responded to questions concerning the size of electoral districts under a proportional representation system and a majority system, 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 their stance on the key vote.
The subcommittee, which held another session Monday night, will resume discussions Tuesday morning.
Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel, a member of the subcommittee whose party supports the Orthodox proposal, called for a compromise formula that combines the proportional representation system and the winner-takes-all system.
He rejected the theory that the Orthodox proposal was dead, saying that only the 1960 law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system, had been buried.
“We in the subcommittee are discussing the hybrid law. But part of it is based on proportional representation and the other part is based on a majority system in such a way that the two sides can find themselves in this law,” Gemayel told reporters after meeting Berri at his residence in Ain al-Tineh.
Gemayel said that if the subcommittee failed to reach an agreement on a new electoral law, Berri would launch “the democratic process by resuming the meetings of the joint parliamentary committees next week” to debate proposals for a new electoral law.
Future bloc MP Ahmad Fatfat, a subcommittee member, said the MPs discussed the draft laws that combine proportional representation and the winner-takes-all system and the one-man, one-vote proposal with a view to reaching the single-member district.
“We are clearly and frankly against any proportional law. But this does not prevent an open dialogue to find a common ground with the others,” said Fatfat.
Meanwhile, Jumblatt said the PSP would soon outline its stance on an electoral law. “The PSP will declare a clear stance on an electoral law and it is examining a number of electoral formulas for this purpose,” Jumblatt said in an article to be published by the PSP’s weekly newspaper Al-Anbaa Tuesday.
Elsewhere, March 8 majority ministers met at the house of Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil to discuss an election law and ways of energizing the Cabinet’s work, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV reported.