BEIRUT: Attempts to reach consensus on a new electoral law appeared to be in a race Friday with a bid to push for a Parliament vote on the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel took the first major step toward holding the June 9 parliamentary polls by announcing that those wishing to run in the elections could register their names starting next week.
MP Ibrahim Kanaan, from MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, said he believed Speaker Nabih Berri would eventually call for a meeting of Parliament’s general assembly to vote on a new voting system, including the Orthodox proposal.
“The democratic process will go on. After the Orthodox proposal gained a majority [of votes] in the joint parliamentary committees, I believe Speaker Berri will be up to the challenge and call for a vote on the Orthodox proposal,” Kanaan told The Daily Star.
He said it was up to Berri to decide when to call Parliament’s general assembly to meet to vote on a new electoral law.
The OTV, the mouthpiece of the FPM, which strongly backs the Orthodox proposal, said it had learned that a Parliament vote on the draft would be held regardless of who accepted or rejected it.
The Orthodox plan, 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.
The four rival Christian parties, the FPM, the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party and the Marada Movement, have fully endorsed the Orthodox proposal, which was also backed by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
However, the proposal has been rejected by President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party and a number of March 14 independent Christian lawmakers who warned that the draft would deepen sectarian divisions in the country.
Both Berri and Charbel have ruled out holding the elections on time unless there is consensus on a new voting system.
In an interview with MTV Friday night, Charbel said that in the absence of an agreement on a new voting law, the elections would he held based on the 1960 system, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system. “If they agreed on a new law, this would abolish the 1960 law,” he said. Charbel added that if the rival factions failed to agree on a voting law, the elections would be postponed.
Earlier Friday, Charbel opened the door for candidates to register for the polls starting next week as rival parties said they had yet to decide on whether they would begin fielding their candidates.
Starting Monday, the Interior Ministry in Beirut will open its doors for those seeking to register as candidates for the 2013 elections, said a statement issued by Charbel’s office. The deadline for the submission of candidacy applications is April 10 and those seeking to withdraw their candidacy have until April 25, it added.
The announcement comes a few days after Sleiman and Mikati signed a decree calling for holding the polls on June 9 based on the controversial 1960 law, which has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political spectrum. The move sparked the ire of the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, with some in the group saying it aimed to revive the 1960 law used in the 2009 polls.
Sleiman said Thursday he strongly believed the polls would take place and not under the 1960 law, which he described as “dead.” But he warned that Lebanon’s security situation could deteriorate should the elections be postponed or not held.
Commenting on Charbel’s announcement, MPs from the rival March 8 and March 14 camps said their parties were still undecided on whether they would submit their choices for candidates by the deadline set by the Interior Ministry.
MP Atef Majdalani, from the Future bloc, told The Daily Star that the bloc would decide during a meeting next week on whether to submit the candidates’ names.
Kanaan also said a decision on whether to submit names would have to wait until his parliamentary bloc met next week.
However, while Majdalani put the announcement down to routine procedures, Kanaan described it as a “new violation of the national will.”
“The announcement is a routine step, part of the administrative procedures governing the Cabinet given that there is an electoral law in effect,” said Majdalani. “It doesn’t necessarily mean the elections will be held on the basis of the 1960 law,” he added. But if we fail to reach an agreement over a new voting system, I do not know,” he said.
Kanaan, for his part, blasted Charbel’s move, saying it was another way of challenging Parliament.
“Charbel’s step comes after the irresponsible behavior of President Michel Sleiman and the prime minister in violation of the national will of Lebanese citizen,” he said. “They are building their actions on ground that has been rejected by most of the Lebanese, which is the 1960 law,” he added.
Kanaan interpreted the procedures taken by the officials as a challenge to Parliament. “They are causing a clash between constitutional institutions: the presidency, the government and the Parliament as well as challenging the House,” he said.
Charbel’s announcement came as the Future Movement and the PSP were working on a hybrid vote law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system in an attempt to break the deadlock over a voting system.
The plan, according to political sources, calls for 70 lawmakers to be elected in a winner-takes-all system and 58 MPs through proportional representation. It also calls for dividing the country into 26 districts in a majority system and nine governorates through proportional representation.
Meanwhile, the upcoming elections were among other topics discussed Thursday night between U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, an LF source told The Daily Star Friday. The two sides stressed the need for the elections to be held on time, the source said. – Additional reporting by Jana El Hassan.