BEIRUT: The joint parliamentary committees gave a new lease on life to a House panel Wednesday to examine a hybrid electoral law plan that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all-system.
The move marks the latest attempt to break the stalemate over new electoral legislation to govern this year’s polls.
Meeting under Speaker Nabih Berri in the absence of Future bloc MPs, the joint committees agreed to extend the work of the parliamentary subcommittee for an additional 15 days after it failed in several rounds of deliberations to agree on a united vote system.
The joint committees, which include lawmakers from the March 8 and March 14 parties, also decided to hold successive sessions of its own starting from Feb. 18, regardless of whether the subcommittee reached an agreement on an electoral law.
If the subcommittee fails again to reach a consensus on an electoral law within the 15-day deadline, the joint committees will begin discussing the Orthodox Gathering’s controversial proposal, which had gained a majority of votes among the subcommittee’s nine members.
As part of his consultations with March 14 leaders, as well as with President Michel Sleiman and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, on proposals for a new electoral law, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri spoke by phone with Berri, discussing with him developments in Lebanon.
“They focused on the need to safeguard national unity and maintain the basis of coexistence, through the possibilities offered by the Taif Constitution, at this stage during which Lebanon is facing various local and regional challenges,” said a statement released by Hariri’s office.
Though it was not the first of its kind, the Berri-Hariri contact is bound to defuse rising political tensions in the run-up to crucial parliamentary elections scheduled in early June.
The phone conversation also came on the eve of an initiative in the form of a draft electoral law, designed to allay the Christians’ concerns over representation in the elections, to be announced by Hariri during an interview from Paris with LBCI TV Thursday night.
“Hariri’s proposal calls for the election of a Senate simultaneously with the election of a Parliament,” Future MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star. Hariri and his March 14 allies have staunchly rejected both the Cabinet’s draft electoral law based on a proportional representation system with 13 medium-sized districts and the Orthodox proposal, which calls for each sect to elect its own MPs under a system of proportional representation with Lebanon as a single district.
Former premier Fouad Siniora, after a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, urged rival factions to reach “common denominators that confirm coexistence among the Lebanese and the importance of their solidarity to rebuild their country amid these major challenges facing the region which affect Lebanon.”
The joint committees’ decision to extend the subcommittee’s mandate came following a two-hour meeting during which rival lawmakers reviewed a report from the panel on the results of its deliberations. Addressing the meeting, Berri stressed the need for “justice, unity and solidarity” in any electoral law.
“The joint committees agreed to extend the work of the subcommittee for 15 days. Its work during these additional days is confined to discussing the hybrid system combining proportionality and a winner-takes-all-system,” MP Robert Ghanem told reporters after the meeting.
Ghanem, the chairman of the subcommittee, said the extension of the subcommittee’s work will not be renewed again. He added that the subcommittee, which also includes lawmakers from March 8 and March 14 parties, will resume its talks next Monday by holding a morning and evening session.
Ghanem said Berri had called on the joint committees to hold open successive sessions starting from Feb. 18 to discuss proposed draft electoral laws regardless of whether the subcommittee reached an agreement.
“If the subcommittee reaches a result, this would be part of the joint committees’ agenda. But if it does not reach a result, these committees will begin studying a proposal presented by MPs Alain Aoun and Naamatallah Abi Nasr, the so-called Orthodox Gathering’s proposal,” Ghanem said.
The joint committees’ meeting was attended by more than 50 lawmakers from the March 8 and March 14 parties and the Cabinet was represented by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi.
Future bloc MPs spurned the meeting in line with its decision to boycott the government and all Cabinet-related meetings.
The subcommittee, which finalized discussions Tuesday and referred its report to the main committees, was tasked with making recommendations on an electoral system and the distribution of electoral districts.
LF MP George Adwan said that if the subcommittee failed again to agree on a new electoral law, Parliament should put the Orthodox proposal up for a vote.
“I tell all the Lebanese and parties in Lebanon: You have today one of two options: either a serious alternative to the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal on which we agree, or we go to Parliament to vote on a law that gains a majority,” Adwan told reporters in Parliament.
Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel said the hybrid vote proposal could achieve a balance between the March 14 demand for a winner-takes-all system and the March 8 support for proportional representation.
Meanwhile, former President Amin Gemayel, the head the Kataeb Party, held talks in Paris with French President Francois Hollande on Lebanese and regional developments, including the repercussions on Lebanon of the 22-month-old conflict in Syria.
Gemayel said Hollande reiterated France’s support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.
“I came out from my meeting with the French president more confident that Lebanon is not a passing issue in the French agenda. The [French] administration is working for all of Lebanon and for the interest of all the Lebanese regardless of their religious or political affiliations,” he said after the meeting at the Elysee Palace.
Gemayel added that Hollande had promised to maintain efforts to help Lebanon at all levels, particularly to protect it from the repercussions of the Syrian crisis.
Also Wednesday, Army commander Maj. Gen. Jean Kahwagi arrived in Paris for talks on military ties between the two countries.