BEIRUT: The United States and France called Tuesday for the June parliamentary elections to be held on time, as failure by rival political leaders to agree on a new voting system has left the fate of the polls in doubt.
A minister said the elections would be delayed if no consensus was reached by the March 8 and March 14 parties on a new electoral law to replace the 1960 system.
“We want the parliamentary elections to be held on time. But if no consensus is reached on an electoral law formula, a technical postponement [of the elections] is possible,” Minister of State Ali Qanso said before entering a Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail.
U.S. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Lawrence Silverman, who has met with Lebanon’s top leaders, reiterated Washington’s stance that elections be held on time.
“In his meetings [with Lebanese officials], 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,” said a statement released by the U.S. Embassy.
“He called for all parties to exercise restraint and respect for Lebanon’s stability and security and praised the efforts of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces in working with political leaders to maintain peace and stability,” it added.
The U.S. official was on a three-day visit during which he held talks with President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Silverman held separate meetings with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel, Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, and Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh as well as a number of March 14 leaders.
The French ambassador to Lebanon, Patrice Paoli, also called for the elections to be held on time.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Berri in Ain al-Tineh, Paoli said France encouraged lawmakers’ efforts to forge a new electoral law.
“The Lebanese themselves must find solutions to this issue. We encourage their determination and efforts to arrive at an electoral law that guarantees holding the elections on time,” he said.
Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who met Berri to discuss the monthslong deadlock over a new electoral law, said the speaker and Jumblatt still believed that rival parties could reach a consensus.
“Berri hasn’t given up on the possibility of reaching an understanding on an electoral law,” Abu Faour told reporters after meeting Berri.
Abu Faour, one of three ministers in Jumblatt’s bloc, said efforts should be geared toward adopting a new law in parallel with the recent decree signed by Sleiman and Mikati calling for the elections to be held on June 9 as well as the March 21 Cabinet session which is expected to discuss the formation of a committee to oversee the polls.
The PSP and the Future Movement are working together on a hybrid vote law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system. The two parties have rejected the Orthodox Gathering electoral proposal, which has been backed by the four main Christian parties as well as by Hezbollah and Amal.
Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun warned that Parliament’s failure to approve the Orthodox proposal would create a political vacuum.
“If the Orthodox proposal isn’t approved and the 1960 law collapses, it will be impossible to agree on another law. Those responsible for not approving the Orthodox proposal would plunge the country into a vacuum,” Aoun told reporters after a meeting of his parliamentary bloc.
However, Mikati, a harsh critic of the Orthodox proposal, called sarcastically for adopting the controversial draft in reverse.
“Let’s turn things around, so that Muslims elect Christian lawmakers and Christians elect Muslim lawmakers according to the currently adopted sectarian allocation of seats,” Mikati said in remarks published by As-Safir newspaper Tuesday.
The Orthodox plan would create a single, nationwide electoral district in which each sect elects its own lawmakers through proportional representation. The proposal has been rejected by Sleiman, Mikati, the Future Movement, the PSP and a number of March 14 independent Christian lawmakers who warn that it will deepen sectarian divisions in the country.
For his part, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora briefed Future Movement MPs on his “positive” meeting with Jumblatt Monday to discuss details of the hybrid vote law being thrashed out between the two groups.