BEIRUT: Parliamentary joint committees will convene Wednesday in the absence of Future Movement MPs to discuss the report of the subcommittee that was working to reach consensus among rival parties on an electoral draft law.
The electoral proposals were also a topic of discussion Tuesday at a meeting between former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt at Hariri’s residence in Paris.
A source close to Speaker Nabih Berri told The Daily Star that parliamentary joint committees will likely give the subcommittee, which has been unable to settle on a single proposal, more time to finish its task.
“I believe it will continue its work.”
The subcommittee met under MP Robert Ghanem Tuesday, during which its members approved the report.
Speaking to reporters after the session, Ghanem described the atmosphere as positive and said the heated arguments among the subcommittee’s members after its most recent meeting last week were not indicative of the mood during the sessions.
“Reconciliation was achieved between all members [of the subcommittee today],” he said.
Following the subcommittee’s final session of last week, rival MPs blamed each other for impeding the work of the group. But Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat and Free Patriotic Movement MP Alain Aoun, who accused each other of lying, shook hands Tuesday after Ghanem’s mediation.
“We read the draft report and every member of the subcommittee gave his opinion and remarks and the draft report will be presented to joint parliamentary committees that will convene tomorrow [Wednesday] morning under Speaker Nabih Berri,” Ghanem said.
The subcommittee, which includes representatives of rival blocs, was formed by the joint parliamentary committees in a bid to help rival groups agree on an electoral draft law.
After two weeks of meetings, little progress was made toward consensus.
A majority of the members supported an electoral draft law proposed by the Orthodox Gathering, which would allow every sect to elect its own MPs under a proportional representation system with Lebanon as a single district. But representatives of the Future Movement and PSP are standing firm in favor of a winner-takes-all system. The last draft law under discussion was proposed by Berri and would combine proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system.
Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said he would propose during Wednesday’s session extending the work of the subcommittee.
“I will propose to the joint committees extending the work of the subcommittee for 15 days with a specific task, which is exclusively discussing the hybrid draft law ... because a bit of common ground was reached on it,” Adwan said.
Once consensus is achieved on the draft law, it will be referred to Parliament for a vote, he added.
“In the meantime, the joint committees would continue studying the other three draft laws presented to Parliament ... and it is not necessary that the Cabinet be represented tomorrow in the session since it [MPs] would only decide on these two matters,” Adwan said.
Hariri’s Future bloc said after its weekly meeting that its MPs would not attend any session in Parliament that Cabinet ministers attend.
Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah slammed the Future Movement for boycotting the session.
“Those who are calling for legislating in the absence of the Cabinet want to set a bad precedent in Lebanon,” he said during a ceremony in Sidon.
The source close to Berri anticipated that the Cabinet would be represented in Wednesday’s session, which would mean the absence of Future Movement MPs.
“The absence of Future Movement MPs will not cause a lack of quorum. It is no longer the entire March 14 alliance boycotting, but only a bloc,” he said. “A final decision will not be made in the session, either.”
Following the subcommittee’s meeting, Ghanem gave the report to Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence. Berri also received a delegation of independent Christian MPs from the March 14 alliance headed by MP Butros Harb.
Harb said he presented to Berri the delegation’s opinion on a new electoral draft law: “First, provide fair representation for all sects in Lebanon, particularly Christians. Second, preserve coexistence and national unity,”
“We discussed ideas proposed [for electoral laws] with the speaker and we agreed to continue discussion so that we reach ... a law with backing of all the Lebanese,” Harb added.
Meanwhile in Paris, Jumblatt and Hariri’s meeting focused on the regional situation and the challenges facing Lebanon, in addition to the electoral proposals, according to a statement from Hariri’s media office.
“Hariri and Jumblatt emphasized the need to preserve the Taif Accord and the coexistence formula in Lebanon, because they protect national unity and stability and help confront these challenges,” the statement said. “They also discussed the various proposed electoral laws and the positions of all parties regarding these drafts. They agreed to pursue consultation on this matter, in a way that serves the interest of Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Hariri’s Future bloc reiterated its opposition to the Orthodox proposal.
At the same time, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun defended the Orthodox Gathering proposal again, arguing that the proposal can pass without the support of the Future Movement.
“We have a law that allows us to elect 64 MPs; we will only support another law that allows us to elect 64 MPs,” Aoun told reporters after chairing the weekly meeting of his bloc. “Their [Future Movement MPs] absence will not have any affect and the electoral law does not require consensus.”
Aoun said that ministers loyal to him will attend the session of joint parliamentary committees.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said that a new electoral law is the starting point of reconciliation for the Lebanese: “We cannot accept an electoral law designed to suit the interests of specific people; we want a law that suits the interest of our nation, Lebanon.”
For her part, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly called for elections to be held on time: “Elections are the backbone of democracy. And to be free and fair they must not only be regulated by an equitable law, they must also be held on time.”
Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel, also in Paris, held talks Tuesday with Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, the Mufti of Tripoli and North Lebanon. He will meet French President Francois Hollande Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Najib Mikati will start an official visit to Turkey.