BEIRUT: A key political aide to Speaker Nabih Berri called Sunday for an inter-Lebanese dialogue to reach consensus on a new electoral law as former President Amin Gemayel said the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal had been set aside in favor of a compromise plan.Berri was also reported to have warned that if pressure was exerted to hold the June 9 elections based on the 1960 law, the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance would respond by pushing for a Parliament vote on the controversial Orthodox proposal.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati met with President Michel Sleiman at the Baabda Palace to discuss the monthslong deadlock over a new voting system to replace the 1960 law. The meeting came ahead of a Cabinet session set for Tuesday when Sleiman is also scheduled to leave on an African tour.
Both Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, and Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb Party, lashed out at the 1960 law, which had been used in the 2009 parliamentary elections. “Let’s talk frankly, the 1960 law is finished and we will not allow [the country] to go 60 years back. We say this because it’s an expression of political unanimity that we have heard from all forces, including the president, the prime minister, parties and movements [in rejecting the 1960 law],” Khalil said.
“We should translate the political unanimity of the Lebanese on the death of the 1960 law by stopping a series of moral pressure exerted [to force us] to consider the law as a de facto matter,” he added.
Khalil, speaking during a rally in the southern village of Maarakeh to commemorate three Amal fighters killed in an Israeli explosion in 1984, was referring to last week’s decision by Sleiman and Mikati to sign a decree calling for the elections based on the 1960 law.
The signing of the decree, which sparked the ire of March 8 politicians, was followed by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel’s decision to open the doors for candidates to register for the polls starting Monday.
All these measures were viewed by the March 8 parties as serious preparations to hold the elections based on the 1960 law, which has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political divide, including the Maronite Church. The 1960 system adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system.
The rival factions’ failure to agree on a new electoral law has enhanced the possibility of a postponement of the elections, or an extension of Parliament’s six-year mandate which expires June 20.
Khalil said that local pressure was coupled with foreign pressure to hold the elections on time based on the 1960 law, adding that speeches by politicians had deepened the crisis in the country.
He called for launching dialogue between the feuding parties to reach consensus on a new electoral law. “Therefore, holding an internal Lebanese dialogue on consensus over a new electoral law has become more than essential at this moment, or else we will be facing a real impasse,” Khalil said.
He added that the suspension of dialogue last year had led to divisions which could not be overcome in the efforts to agree on a new electoral law. “We today need to search for any form of political dialogue ... This will open the door to search for a solution to the election law crisis,” he added.
For his part, Gemayel said contacts were ongoing among political leaders to reach consensus on a new electoral law that can ensure fair representation for all segments of the Lebanese society and bolster national unity.
“There is a tendency to adopt a hybrid electoral law on which all the parties agree,” Gemayel said in an interview with Al-Jazeera channel. “But the devil lies in details. This is what we are trying to avoid. It is in the interest of everyone to reach consensus. Instability is not in anyone’s interest,” he said.
“We have plenty of time to agree on an electoral law that facilitates the holding of elections on time,” Gemayel said. Referring to the parties’ objections to the 1960 law, he said: “Upholding this law would lead nowhere.”
Referring to the Orthodox proposal, Gemayel said: “The Orthodox Gathering draft has been put aside and we are focusing now on a compromise. But no one is saying what is the alternative law. It is increasingly becoming clear that it is impossible to reach consensus on any electoral law other than the Orthodox draft. Anyone who considers this [Orthodox] law as ‘heresy,’ he should propose a law that could be approved in Parliament.”
Berri was also quoted as saying that rival parties would have enough time to reach a new electoral law.
“We have three months and a half left until the elections. We have sufficient time to agree on a new electoral law, if all rivals are ready,” visitors who met Berri quoted him as saying, Al-Hayat newspaper reported.
Berri was quoted as stressing the need for political rivals to find an alternative to the 1960 law and the Orthodox proposal.
“We should agree on an alternative electoral law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system to replace the 1960 and Orthodox laws,” he was quoted as saying.
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.
However, the proposal has been rejected by Sleiman, 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.