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Aoun, Geagea resist Rai’s bid to revive Berri’s hybrid vote law

Speaker Nabih Berri, left, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Cardinal Beshara Rai meet in Rome on Sunday March 17, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati and Nohra)

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai will soon invite rival Christian leaders to consult on a hybrid vote law, political sources said Thursday, in the latest attempt to break the monthslong deadlock over a new electoral system that threatens to scuttle the June 9 polls.

“Patriarch Rai will bring the Maronite leaders together in Bkirki soon to discuss a hybrid electoral plan proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri,” a Maronite source told The Daily Star. “However, Berri’s proposal is encountering opposition from Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea,” the source said, referring to the Free Patriotic Movement leader and his archfoe, the Lebanese Forces chief.

The source denied reports that the planned meeting, grouping Aoun, Geagea or an LF representative, Kataeb chief Amin Gemayel and Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh, would take place Friday.

Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who also attended the pope’s inaugural ceremony, held meetings with Rai in Rome to discuss proposals for a new electoral law. The three were reported to have agreed on a three-point plan to break the electoral impasse.

Dubbed by local media the “Rome agreement,” the plan, according to political sources, stipulates holding elections based on a draft electoral law proposed by Berri that calls for electing 64 MPs based on proportional representation and another 64 under a winner-takes-all system. The plan also calls for the creation of a senate, allowing every sect to elect its own representatives, and the formation of a new government to supervise the elections.

Speaking to reporters at Beirut airport upon his return from Rome, Rai confirmed that he would invite the four Maronite leaders for talks in Bkirki.

“Speaker Berri, Prime Minister Mikati and I had discussed together during our meeting in Rome how to come up with an electoral law. They had ideas which are not new and which have been presented publicly and everywhere. I have talked to them about all these issues,” Rai said. He added that he would contact the Maronite leaders to agree on a date for the meeting.

Rai implied that his discussions with Berri and Mikati focused on the speaker’s hybrid vote proposal. “Everyone knows Speaker Berri’s plan. It equally combines the two [proportional representation and a winner-takes-all system]. It is a hybrid plan,” he said.

Asked if he blesses Berri’s hybrid plan, Rai said: “We bless any plan but the 1960 [law]. All the Lebanese are looking for a law that satisfies everyone. We have always repeated that we support any [law] on which the Lebanese agree. We have no preference over any law.”

“As a [Maronite] church, we must make a distinction and not deal with technical affairs because this is the job of the politicians. We don’t have a specific proposal,” Rai added.

Rai as well as officials on both sides of the political divide have rejected the 1960 law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system. The 1960 law was used in the 2009 elections.

Batroun MP Butros Harb told The Daily Star he had received an SMS message inviting him for the Bkirki meeting, but said no date has been set yet.

Harb attended last month’s meeting of the Maronite leaders chaired by Rai in Bkirki to calm the political storm stirred by the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral proposal that was approved by the joint parliamentary committees.

Harb, one of the independent March 14 Christian lawmakers who have rejected the Orthodox draft, said he had presented a proposal calling for “one-man, one-vote with a single district under a winner-takes-all system.”

The Batroun MP sounded skeptical about the elections being held on time due to the parties’ failure to agree on a new voting system, and predicted an extension of Parliament’s mandate.

“I don’t see that the elections will be held on time because Aoun’s stance, backed by Hezbollah, is hindering an agreement on a new electoral law,” Harb said. “Things seem to be heading in the direction of extending Parliament’s mandate.”

The March 8 and March 14 parties’ inability to agree on a new law has enhanced the possibility of a postponement of the parliamentary elections, or an extension of Parliament’s four-year mandate which expires June 20.

The United States and France have repeatedly called for the elections to be held on time. U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly has said the polls should be held on time regardless of whether politicians reach a consensus.

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.

As a way out of the electoral deadlock, the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party are currently working on a hybrid vote law.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 22, 2013, on page 3.

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