Lebanon News

Christian leaders search for vote law fix

Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai, center, poses for a photo with Christian leaders in Bkirki, Friday, March 22, 2013. (The Daily Star/Antoine Amrieh)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s rival Maronite leaders said Friday they were open to any proposal that could help break the monthslong stalemate over a new electoral law.

The leaders’ stance came as rival political factions have so far failed to agree on a new voting system to govern the parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for June 9.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai brought the Christian leaders from the March 8 and March 14 camps together at a meeting in Bkirki to discuss a hybrid vote law to replace the 1960 system.

Rai called the meeting to brief leaders on the results of his talks with Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Rome this week on a hybrid electoral plan proposed by Berri.

“The participants voiced their openness toward anything that can reconcile viewpoints among the Lebanese and help in finding a solution to the [electoral] crisis,” said a terse statement issued by the media office in Bkirki.

“They agreed on deepening and expanding discussions with those concerned based on the principles which the Bkirki meetings had previously stressed. They kept their meetings open in order to pursue efforts and follow up developments,” the statement added.

Chaired by Rai, the Bkirki meeting was attended by Free Patriotic Movement leader and MP Michel Aoun, Kataeb chief Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces official and MP George Adwan to represent LF leader Samir Geagea, Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh, and Batroun MP Butros Harb, representing a group of independent March 14 Christian lawmakers. Also present were FPM’s MP Alain Aoun, Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel and former ministers Ziyad Baroud and Youssef Saade.

A Maronite source told The Daily Star that Rai hurriedly arranged the meeting in view of fast-moving developments in the country.

These were mainly to do with concerns over the future of the Cabinet, but also related to fierce fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tripoli that killed six people in two days, and the split within the Cabinet over Mikati’s proposal to extend the term of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi on April 1.

Ahead of the Bkirki meeting, Rai met with President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace to brief him on the results of his meetings with Berri and Mikati in Rome, the source said. The source added that Aoun and Geagea opposed Berri’s hybrid vote plan.

Geagea telephoned Rai and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to discuss attempts to reach consensus on an election law, according to a statement released by the LF leader’s office.

During their meetings in Rome, Rai, Berri and Mikati were reported to have agreed on a three-point plan to break the electoral impasse.

Known as the “Rome agreement,” the plan is believed to stipulate holding elections based on a draft electoral law proposed by Berri that would elect 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.

Separately, Hariri telephoned Berri to discuss a hybrid vote law, part of efforts to reach consensus on a system.

Hariri and Berri discussed “the latest developments regarding the electoral law and the hybrid proposal submitted by the speaker, as well as the ongoing positive efforts exerted to reach common ground among the parliamentary blocs,” said a statement released by Hariri’s office.

“They also discussed the [Future Movement’s] proposal to extend the terms of the military and security leaderships to avoid any vacuum during this period which requires concerted efforts to confront the tense situation in the country,” it added.

Regarding these issues, Hariri has stayed in constant contact with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc and March 14 leaders, the statement said. It added that Hariri also received a phone call from Geagea during which they discussed political developments and the opinions regarding an electoral law.

The Future parliamentary bloc has written an urgent draft law to change the mandatory retirement age for several high-ranking security officials who are set to reach mandatory retirement age this year.

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.

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

The United States and France have repeatedly called for the elections to be held on time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 23, 2013, on page 2.




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