BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati signaled Thursday that his government was close to moving forward with the parliamentary elections based on the 1960 law as rival political factions have so far failed to agree on a new voting system.
Mikati’s remarks came as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri telephoned Speaker Nabih Berri stressing that the elections, scheduled for June 9, should be held on time, while Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said the Orthodox Gathering’s controversial proposal was doomed.
With time for Parliament to endorse a new electoral law running out, Mikati said he had agreed with President Michel Sleiman to sign a decree calling on voters to participate in the upcoming polls, a move that is likely to refute expectations that the elections might be postponed in the absence of a new voting legislation.
“The government has the 1960 law [to govern the elections]. It is the law that is in force and I am responsible for implementing it,” Mikati said, according to LBCI TV.
“The postponement of the elections and the extension of Parliament’s mandate will not come from the government,” he added.
A source close to Mikati said that the premier had already received the decree calling on voters to participate in the elections after it had been signed by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, whose ministry will supervise the voting process.
Charbel said the voters should be called to participate in the elections before March 10. He said the Cabinet would form a committee to supervise the elections under any electoral law to be adopted.
Referring to the 1960 law, which has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political divide, including the Maronite Church, Charbel said in a TV interview: “The electoral law has been drafted by Parliament and Parliament can abolish it.”
The 1960 law, which was used in the 2009 parliamentary elections, adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system.
With tension building between the March 8 and March 14 parties in the run-up to the elections, Charbel warned that any major security incident might affect holding the polls on time.
Referring to fears of renewed fighting between armed supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tripoli, he said: “The security situation is not good. With the situation as it is today, we can hold the elections. But if something happened before the elections, it would affect holding the elections.”
Also Thursday, Hariri discussed the electoral law dispute in a phone call with Berri, saying that the Future Movement insisted that the elections should be held on time.
“The Future Movement was, still is and will continue to be committed to holding the parliamentary elections on time, contrary to all organized campaigns that cast doubt on this issue,” Hariri told Berri from his residence in Riyadh, according to a statement from the ex-premier’s office.
Following the phone call with Hariri, Berri was quoted by visitors as saying: “Everyone wants the elections to be held on time, but we need a law for that. There is still some time to agree on an [electoral] law, or else we will go to other options.”
Berri did not elaborate, but he was apparently hinting at the possibility of extending Parliament’s mandate, which expires on June 20.
Echoing Hariri’s stance, Future MP Atef Majdalani said that there was no justification for delaying the elections. “How can we prevent holding the elections with an existing law?” Majdalani told Al-Jadeed TV, referring to the 1960 law.
He blasted the Orthodox Gathering proposal, saying that the controversial draft was aimed at “destroying Hariri’s political doctrine.”
Majdalani also slammed an electoral proposal announced Wednesday by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, which calls for adopting proportional representation with Lebanon as a single district. “Hezbollah’s proposal does not ensure true Christian representation. It carries with it sectarian domination over the country,” he said.
Jumblatt also lashed out at the Orthodox proposal, saying the draft no longer stood any chance of being adopted for the forthcoming polls.
“The time of the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal is over due to the stances of President Michel Sleiman and the independent [Christians] in the March 14 coalition who have obstructed this suicidal proposal,” Jumblatt told As-Safir.
The Orthodox proposal, which designates Lebanon as a single electoral district in which each sect elects its own lawmakers through a proportional representation voting system, has deepened the political split in the country.
Jumblatt also stressed the elections should be held on time: “[President] Sleiman and I are determined to establish a committee to monitor the elections, since we are not going to accept the postponement of the elections.”
The Cabinet recently agreed to refer the issue of the formation of the controversial committee to supervise the elections to the Higher Consultation Committee, which will issue its opinion on the deadline for the creation of the commission.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, spoke twice by phone with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea to discuss the monthslong deadlock over an electoral law.
The two agreed that the legal deadline should not under any circumstances be allowed to pass without reaching a new electoral law, according to a statement issued by Geagea’s office. The two also agreed to stay in contact in order to accelerate reaching a solution to the electoral law crisis as soon as possible, it said.
Geagea told Al-Liwaa daily that discussions over an electoral draft law backed by consensus are focusing on a hybrid formula, particularly the one known as the Fouad Butros draft law. He said it calls for the election of 77 deputies on the basis of winner-takes-all and 51 deputies based on the proportional representation.