BEIRUT: Deliberations between political groups gained momentum Wednesday in a fresh bid to reach consensus over an electoral law to govern June’s parliamentary elections, with the option of a hybrid system dominating talks.
Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said the Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces, the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party had finalized talks on the districting and distribution of seats in a draft law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system.
“The draft law would divide the country into 26 districts and nine governorates,” he told The Daily Star, refusing to give more details.
Fatfat said the draft law was very close to the one proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri under which 64 MPs would be elected in a winner-takes-all system and another 64 through proportional representation. Berri, however, withdrew his proposal, saying it had become a point of contention.
“[PSP leader] MP [Walid] Jumblatt’s visit today to Speaker Berri is an attempt to involve the other side in discussions,” Fatfat said, in reference to a visit Jumblatt paid to Berri Wednesday.
Jumblatt told reporters that Berri reiterated polls would only be held based on a voting system supported by the rival parties.
“Speaker Nabih Berri repeated to me that ... we will have elections only based on a law that wins consensus,” he said, describing his talks with the speaker as fruitful.
“This means that all groups should work together to agree on a law that combines a winner-takes-all system with proportional representation to bring us out of the contradiction between the 1960 law and the Orthodox proposal,” he added.
Sources close to Jumblatt and Berri could not be reached by The Daily Star.
Future Movement MP Nuhad Mashnouk held talks with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Tuesday evening. Mashnouk said Future still adhered to the strategic alliance with all March 14 parties.
MPs attending Berri’s weekly meeting said he expressed annoyance that President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati signed the decree which calls for holding elections on June 9 based on the 1960 law.
According to the MPs, the speaker explained that the “Orthodox proposal is the only draft law on the legislative agenda now and [I am still] waiting for consensus on an electoral law.”
Berri then said the 1960 law contained 34 articles about the instrumental role of the election supervisory committee, which was employed during the 2009 elections, and stressed it would have an equally important role for the upcoming elections.
“Thus, this means that not forming [the supervisory committee] implies that the 1960 law is dead,” Berri was quoted as saying.
Sleiman has insisted that the committee be created within the constitutional deadline, but his move to do so was opposed by the March 8 coalition, which argued that its formation would lead to holding the elections under the 1960 law, which it opposes.
A political source from Baabda Palace said Sleiman would put the formation of the committee on the agenda of the first Cabinet session after he returns from a visit to four African states. He will begin his tour on March 12 and is scheduled to return March 20.
Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem slammed what he called the “the order from the U.S. for Lebanon to hold elections based on the 1960 law.”
“This is a farce, this is a great humiliation for Lebanon that its legal path is determined by instructions from the U.S. ambassador. National issues should have been dealt with from a different perspective, and joint efforts should have been taken into consideration,” he said during a ceremony in the south.
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly said Monday elections should be held on time regardless of whether politicians reached a consensus on a new electoral law. Just hours after Connelly’s remarks, Sleiman and Mikati signed the decree calling for elections to be held on June 9.
“It wasn’t appropriate that Connelly gave orders and then steps were taken,” Qassem said, adding, “this is a humiliation to the Lebanese state regardless of justifications.”
Sleiman and Mikati argued that signing the decree was in line with their constitutional obligations and added that there was still a chance to reach consensus on a new law.
Qassem said Hezbollah supported any fair electoral law that provided fair representation for all sects that was proportional to their size.
U.K. Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher said the need for elections in Lebanon was particularly important given “regional uncertainty.”
“It is more important than ever to uphold the principle that citizens should be able to hold their leaders to account,” Fletcher said following talks with Mikati at the Grand Serail, according to a U.K. Embassy statement.