BEIRUT: A meeting between Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Rome yielded no breakthroughs for the deadlocked electoral law to govern elections in June. Also tackling the thorny issue of the electoral law, President Michel Sleiman said he would not accept that other countries impose an electoral law in Lebanon.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Berri said he was still waiting for consensus to be reached between rival political groups over a voting system.
“I repeat what I said during the sessions of Parliament’s joint committees. The worst electoral law that the Lebanese agree on is better than any other law” imposed from abroad, he said.
Asked about his stance regarding the hybrid electoral law the opposition and the Progressive Socialist Party were currently discussing, Berri said: “I first proposed a hybrid law to the [parliamentary] subcommittee and when I found that it was opposed by various groups I said, ‘Let us withdraw the draft law and wait for an electoral law that draws a consensus from any group and I will support it.’”
Asked whether he would call for a Parliament session to put the Orthodox proposal to a vote if rival groups fail to achieve consensus, Berri replied that he was “very patient.”
Besides Berri, Mikati and Rai, Environment Minister Nazem Khoury also attended the meeting, which lasted for more than an hour.
Berri and Mikati left Beirut for Rome on a private jet Saturday evening to take part in newly elected Pope Francis’ inauguration Mass, which will take place Tuesday.
Mikati stressed that the government would remain in place, denying claims he would soon resign.
“We have heard such talk on more than one occasion and some are always banking on this taking place. But let us be optimistic; the Cabinet will not resign,” he said.
Mikati was responding to a question regarding reports that a Cabinet session scheduled for Thursday would be the government’s last.
The Cabinet is expected to discuss Thursday the formation of the controversial supervisory committee to oversee elections.
The move is opposed by the March 8 coalition because, it argues, it would lead to holding elections based on the 1960 law, which it opposes.
But Sleiman argued that the committee should be established in line with the constitutional deadline, since no agreement was reached on a new electoral law.
Sleiman said Sunday he did not accept another country imposing an electoral law in Lebanon.
“There is talk that the Americans favor this or that electoral law. I say that no Lebanese president would accept any state imposing on him its opinion on the electoral law,” he told a delegation from the Lebanese community in Ghana, a stop in his one-week visit to four African countries.
Hezbollah said earlier that Mikati and Sleiman had followed U.S. instructions by signing a decree earlier this month that called for holding parliamentary elections based on the 1960 law.
Sleiman and Mikati’s decree came hours after U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly said elections should be held on time regardless of whether a consensus is reached over the electoral law.
Sleiman also reiterated his opposition to the Orthodox proposal. “I will not accept that during my term [as president] a sectarian electoral law is endorsed,” he said.
“In the law there is an item stipulating that expats have the right to participate [in elections]. But if a sectarian law is endorsed, I will ask that either expats do not vote or assign them MPs that are elected on a nonsectarian basis ... we will not send sectarian ballot boxes,” Sleiman added.
“You should teach us how to abandon sectarianism,” he said.
Sleiman said that the new electoral law should bring the official voting age from 21 to 18 years and help encourage the representation of women in Parliament.
Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, from Berri’s Amal Movement, said that the March 8 coalition, which has a majority in the Cabinet, would oppose the formation of the elections supervisory committee during Thursday’s session.
“If President Michel Sleiman proposes this issue [during Thursday’s] Cabinet session, then we will vote against its establishment and all sides should respect the results of the vote,” Khalil told a local TV station.
“The elections supervisory committee will not receive enough votes to be approved and the president should deal with this constitutional path through institutions and [acknowledge] that the 1960 law no longer exists,” Khalil said. “Threats of taking certain measures are useless.”