BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt still believe there is a possibility for rival parties to reach a consensus over a new electoral law, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said, as Washington reiterated that the June polls should be held on time.
Meanwhile, MP Michel Aoun warned against plunging the country into a power vacuum if the Orthodox Gathering law is not approved given, the fact that no agreement has been reached over a future law.
“Berri has not given up on the possibility of reaching an understating on an electoral law because it is clear that a new law should be based on mutual understanding and consensus among Lebanese,” Abu Faour told reporters after his meeting with the speaker.
Abu Faour, who is one of three ministers in Jumblatt’s bloc, also said that efforts should be heavily focused on adopting a new law in parallel with the recent decree signed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Sleiman calling for the elections on June 9 as well as the March 21 Cabinet session scheduled to discuss the formation of an electoral committee to oversee the polls.
“We don't think and Walid Jumblatt doesn't think that it’s impossible to adopt a law that reinvigorates political life in the country on a clear and normal path and hold the electoral polls and form a new government,” he added.
With only a couple of months left before the parliamentary polls are due, political parties have not yet reached a consensus on a new electoral law, raising doubts of whether elections will be held on time.
The Future Movement and Jumblatt are working together to draft a law that combines both proportionality and a winner-takes-all system. Both reject the Orthodox Gathering proposal that received support for the majority of Christian parties backed by Hezbollah and Amal Movement.
The controversial law, which mandates that each sect elect its own MPs based on proportional representation, was approved in the joint parliamentary committees earlier this year. The proposal would still need to be put for a vote in Parliament for final approval before becoming law.
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Lawrence Silverman reiterated Tuesday his country's stance that elections should be held on time.
“Silverman welcomed the efforts of Lebanese leaders to reach consensus and uphold Lebanon’s democratic and constitutional principles, and stressed the need to hold parliamentary elections on time,” the embassy said in a statement.
The U.S. official was on a three-day visit to Lebanon where he met the heads of state as well as several politicians.
His remarks came during his meetings with Jumblatt and Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel, Army leader Gen. Jean Kahwagi, and Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh as well as other March 14 coalition figures.
Silverman also called on all parties to “exercise restraint and respect for Lebanon’s stability and security.”
U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly has said parliamentary polls should be held on time regardless of whether politicians reach a consensus on a new electoral law.
Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement and one of the main opponents for the Orthodox proposal, warned against a paralysis.
“If the Orthodox Gathering proposal was not approved and given that the 1960 law has fallen and there is no way to reach a new law then those responsible for not approving the Orthodox law are also to blame for plunging the country into a vacuum,” Aoun said after his bloc’s weekly meeting Tuesday.
He also said that those responsible for such paralysis would "be those boycotting Parliament and not placing the Orthodox Gathering [law] in parliament for a vote.”
Aoun also said that the Higher Defense Council and security forces should reassure politicians that elections can be held given the security situation so that they can prepare for the polls.
French Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli said Tuesday his country encouraged lawmakers’ efforts in searching for a new electoral law, adding that Paris does not interfere in the internal affairs of what he said was a purely Lebanese matter.
“France does not interfere in laws concerning elections or the Lebanese conflict over them and it considers it as an internal Lebanese affair and does not involve itself in it,” Paoli told reporters following talks with Speaker Berri.
“We encourage their [the Lebanese] will in seeking to find an electoral law that guarantees holding the elections on time and we appreciate and encourage efforts exerted by officials particularly Berri and the president,” he added.