BEIRUT: Lebanon’s feuding parties appeared Monday to be in a race against time in an attempt to reach an agreement on a new electoral law amid signs that the gap over a vote system was still very wide.
Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel warned that Parliament had only one month left to agree on a new electoral law before the Interior Ministry began logistical preparations to conduct the parliamentary elections, scheduled in early June, on the basis of the 1960 law.
Contacts on a new electoral law gathered steam with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri consulting with key March 14 leaders to coordinate the opposition’s stance on various vote proposals.
Hariri’s move comes three days before the head of the Future Movement is expected to unveil during an interview from Paris with LBCI TV Thursday a draft electoral law designed to allay the Christians’ concerns over representation in the elections, a political source told The Daily Star.
Hariri met in Paris Monday night with former President Amin Gemayel, the head of the Kataeb Party.
The two discussed “the challenges facing Lebanon at the national and regional levels. They also discussed the various viewpoints on the proposed draft electoral laws,” according to a statement released by Hariri’s office.
Hariri, who also met with former MPs Fares Soueid and Samir Franjieh, spoke by telephone with President Michel Sleiman, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Batroun MP Butros Harb. He is expected to meet Tuesday with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, who is currently in Paris, the statement said.
Jumblatt, who met French President Francois Hollande Monday, stressed the importance of protecting Lebanon from the repercussions of the 22-month-old bloody conflict in Syria.
Hariri and his March 14 allies have staunchly rejected the Cabinet’s draft electoral law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-sized districts, and also the Orthodox Gathering’s controversial proposal, which calls for each sect to elect its own lawmakers under a system of proportional representation with Lebanon as a single district.
This week will witness a flurry of activity in Parliament, including a crucial meeting of the joint parliamentary committees, aimed at narrowing differences between the March 8 and March 14 parties on a new electoral legislation to replace the 1960 law, which was declared dead by Speaker Nabih Berri.
“The 1960 law is dead and the elections will not be held on its basis,” Berri said in remarks published by An-Nahar newspaper Monday.
The 1960 law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system, has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political divide, including the Maronite Church. The 1960 law was used in 2009.
However, the chances of the joint committees, which include MPs from the March 8 and March 14 parties, being able to break the stalemate over a vote system appeared to be slim following the parliamentary Future bloc’s decision to boycott the committees’ meetings in line with the March 14 boycott of the Cabinet.
Parliament’s departments Monday circulated Berri’s call for the parliamentary Justice, Administration, Finance and Budget, Foreign Affairs, Defense, Interior and Municipalities, Information and Telecommunications Committees to hold a joint meeting Wednesday to discuss a new electoral law and hear a report in this respect by a parliamentary subcommittee, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Berri’s move came after the subcommittee, made up of March 8 and March 14 MPs, failed in several rounds of talks to reach an agreement on a united vote system. Six of the subcommittee’s nine members supported the Orthodox proposal.
The subcommittee will meet Tuesday in Parliament to approve the minutes of their deliberations before submitting its report to Berri who will then send it to the joint committees.
Despite the opposition March 14 coalition’s decision to boycott the Cabinet, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party said they will attend the joint committees’ meeting, breaking ranks with the Future Movement.
“The Kataeb Party actively participated in the subcommittee’s meetings. It is only normal that we return to the joint committees after finalizing work in the subcommittee,” MP Gemayel told a news conference.
“We are committed to the continuation of the democratic and constitutional process, from the subcommittee to the joint committees and the Parliament’s general assembly because we want the election law to be amended and agree on another law that can ensure a true representation and a real power sharing among the Lebanese.”
Gemayel warned that time was running out for rival factions to agree on a new electoral law to govern the polls. “We have only one month to agree on a new electoral law ... Elections are due in four months and we can’t waste time anymore.”
Referring to the draft law presented by the Kataeb Party and the LF that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts, as well as to the Orthodox proposal and Berri’s hybrid vote plan that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system, Gemayel said: “Whichever draft gains a majority consensus, we will vote for it in the [Parliament’s] general assembly.”
“All we want is a true representation [of the Christians] and a real power sharing,” he added.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora discussed the deadlock over an electoral law during a meeting with Sleiman at Baabda Palace.
The two discussed electoral proposals and “stressed the importance of reaching a modern electoral law that allows for political plurality and reflects the spirit of the Constitution,” according to a statement released by Sleiman’s office.
A number of lawmakers and political figures who met Sleiman backed him in opposing the Orthodox proposal.
They supported the president in his aspiration for “a modern law that represents all Lebanese segments and is based on the spirit of the Constitution and the foundations of coexistence,” the statement said.
Sleiman was quoted by visitors as saying that he would present “a constitutional review” to court if the Orthodox proposal was enacted by Parliament.
Also Monday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said lawmakers could approve a new electoral law if Berri’s efforts were fruitful.
“If things go the way they are now with regards to parliamentary discussions and efforts by Speaker Nabih Berri bear fruits, then a new law for the parliamentary elections could be reached,” Mikati said during a meeting with members of consular corps in Lebanon. He reiterated that the elections would take place on time, saying that no party wanted the polls not to be held.