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Contacts resume to agree on electoral law after Rome talks

Mikati and Berri attend the Pope Francis inaugural mass at the Vatican (The Daily Star/Dalati&Nohra,HO)

BEIRUT: Discussions will resume Wednesday in order to reach consensus on a new electoral law after Lebanon’s speaker, prime minister and Maronite patriarch agreed on a three-point-plan to break the deadlock during meetings in Rome.

Political sources told The Daily Star that the plan stipulates holding elections based on a draft electoral law proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri that calls for electing 64 MPs based on proportional representation and another 64 under a winner-takes-all system.

A senate would be established, allowing every sect to elect its own representatives, and a new government would be formed to supervise elections.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai is to hold a meeting with head of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Kataeb chief Amin Gemayel and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh soon in order to gain their support for the proposal.

For his part, Berri, who returned to Beirut Tuesday night, will try to convince Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt to agree to the plan.

But a senior March 8 source downplayed the Rome talks, saying no breakthrough was achieved.

Sejaan Azzi, deputy-head of Kataeb, said his party had no “official information” about the talks in Rome.

“I believe there is exaggeration in the significance of what happened in Rome. We believe that an agreement on an electoral law should be reached between Lebanese leaders in Lebanon,” Azzi said. He added that Rai contacted Gemayel Monday and informed him about his intention to convene a meeting of Christian political leaders.

Similarly, Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam said his party still had no official stance on the outcome of the meetings in Rome.

The Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri discussed “ideas leaked” from Rome during its weekly meeting and said “it adheres to holding elections on time, based on a law that is in line with the Constitution and does not violate coexistence.”

“Based on these principles, [the bloc] announces its readiness to discuss proposed draft laws that contribute to emerging out of this crisis, on the condition that they provide fair representation ... and respect the Taif Accord,” a statement said.The bloc reiterated that an initiative proposed by Hariri in January, which calls for holding parliamentary elections based on a winner-takes-all system law with Lebanon divided into small districts, represents a comprehensive solution. Hariri’s plan also calls for the establishment of a senate where sects are represented.

Commenting on the Rome meetings, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun said he was unaware of the results of the discussions: “A consensus draft law was not presented to us.”

Aoun reiterated his support for the Orthodox proposal, saying that it, along with one that would adopt all of Lebanon as a single district under proportional representation, is in line with the National Pact.

Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman highlighted the need to hold elections on time and under a new electoral law.

“We should not think at all of not holding it [elections],” said Sleiman, addressing a delegation from the Lebanese-Nigerian Initiative Association in Lagos. “Others are fighting now to hold elections and have democracy and we are fighting in order to postpone them.”

Sleiman said he supported proportional representation, saying it allowed more than one group within every sect to be represented democratically in Parliament.

Batroun MP Butros Harb expressed hope that talks between Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Rai in Rome could resolve the ongoing crisis.

“However ... the problem lies in the fact that the March 8 coalition is standing firm on its stance: Either the Orthodox proposal or a law that adopts Lebanon as one district under proportional representation, or there is no solution,” Harb told reporters at his residence in Hazmieh after meeting independent Christian lawmakers from the March 14 coalition. “These are two contradictory proposals.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 20, 2013, on page 1.

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