Lebanon News

Rai supports extending terms of Sleiman, Parliament

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai (C) conducts a service at the Maronite Cathedral of Saint Anthony (Mar Antonios) in Bab Tuma, a predominantly Christian quarter of Damascus, on February 9, 2013. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai has come out in support of extending the terms of Parliament and President Michel Sleiman to allow rival factions to agree on a new electoral law, in a development boosting the chances of postponing the June 9 elections.

Rai’s stance reflected growing doubts about the ability of the March 8 and March 14 parties to reach agreement on a voting system as the deadline for inviting voters to participate in the June 9 elections draws near, thus enhancing the possibility of the polls either being conducted under the 1960 law, or not held on time.

Rai, who returned Friday from an official visit to Russia, lamented the feuding parties’ failure to agree on a new electoral legislation to replace the 1960 law.

“Everyone has complained about the 1960 law. They have been working for years on a new [electoral] law through committees and draft laws. The good will and dignity of the Lebanese are sufficient [for the parties] to come up with a new electoral law on which all the parties agree in the interests of everyone,” Rai said in an interview with Russia Today.

Referring to failed attempts in the past few weeks by a parliamentary subcommittee to agree on a new electoral law, Rai said: “I am still confident that the Lebanese will reach a solution and a law will be approved.”

“If they have to extend the terms of [Parliament or the president] in order to give people time to understand the new law and prepare for it, then so be it,” Rai said, adding that the extension should be from two to four months.

“Everyone is against extending the mandate, be it for Parliament or for the president. Everyone says they’re against the extension,” he added.

Speaking to reporters at Beirut airport, Rai confirmed his call for the extension of the terms of the president and Parliament.

“Shame on us, on the Lebanese and on those in power for not arriving at a new election law after having studied it in committees and draft laws for five years. Shame on all of us for not reaching a new law,” Rai said. Sleiman has recently declared that he opposes an extension of his six-year term in office, which expires in 2014. He has also pledged not to sign a decree extending Parliament’s four-year mandate, which expires on June 20.

In the interview with Russia Today, Rai rejected governing the upcoming elections with the 1960 law. “Returning to the 1960 law is no longer acceptable. For the sake of the dignity of the Lebanese, we must find an [electoral] law,” he said.

His comments came a day after Prime Minister Najib Mikati signaled that his Cabinet was close to moving forward with the elections based on the 1960 law after the failure to agree on a new voting system. Mikati said Thursday he had agreed with Sleiman to sign a decree calling on voters to participate in the elections.

The 1960 law, which has been rejected by both sides of the political divide, including the Maronite Church, adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system. The 1960 law was used in the 2009 elections.

Rai also said security conditions should not prevent the elections from being held, “unless, God forbid, things take a turn that restricts people’s movements, then there will certainly be difficulty.”

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said in a statement that he had sent a decree calling on voters to participate in the polls to the Cabinet’s Secretariat General on Dec. 3, and not two days ago as reported by some media outlets.

Meanwhile, a group of independent March 14 Christian lawmakers, including Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, reiterated its rejection of the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral proposal, while voicing support for a hybrid vote law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system.

The lawmakers met with Beirut Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi to discuss the issue.

Referring to the Orthodox proposal, Makari told reporters after the meeting: “We hope all the parties have really bypassed this proposal, which contradicts Lebanon’s philosophy, its Constitution and the spirit of its National Pact and causes damage to the Christians themselves.”

Asked what was the best electoral formula that could ensure true representation of the Christians, Makari said: “The only logical formula, and not the best formula, that can be accepted is the formula that combines a winner-takes-all system and proportional representation.”

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 widened the political divide in the country.

Makari indirectly slammed a proposal announced by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah Wednesday calling for adopting proportional representation with Lebanon as a single district. He said such a proposal was aimed at preventing the elections from being held.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 02, 2013, on page 1.




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