BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal would top the agenda of next week’s Parliament sessions designed to examine and approve a new electoral law, a move that could set up a clash with opponents of the controversial draft and thwart the legislature’s discussions.
The parliamentary Future bloc and MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, which staunchly oppose the Orthodox proposal, have said they would boycott any Parliament session aimed at voting on the proposal.
Berri scheduled four consecutive legislative sessions starting on May 15 to discuss and approve a new electoral law, lawmakers who saw the speaker during Wednesday’s weekly meeting at his Ain al-Tineh residence quoted him as saying.
The Orthodox Gathering’s proposal will be put up for a vote at Wednesday’s session because it is the only draft on Parliament’s agenda, the MPs quoted Berri as saying, adding that the Orthodox proposal had been approved by Parliament’s joint committees.
The speaker’s decision to convene Parliament for four consecutive days was apparently aimed at nudging the rival parties to agree on a new voting system to replace the current 1960 law and averting a delay in the June elections or an extension of Parliament’s mandate.
However, the session risks being thwarted by the Future bloc if the Orthodox proposal is put up for a vote.
Minyeh MP Ahmad Fatfat, from the Future Movement, warned that he and his colleagues would pull out of next Wednesday’s session if the Orthodox proposal was put up for a vote.
“The Future [bloc] will withdraw from the May 15 session if the Orthodox draft law is brought up during the session,” Fatfat told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. He said the Future bloc rejected any extension of more than six months of Parliament’s mandate, which expires June 20. Fatfat said Beirut Bishop Boulos Matar, a special emissary of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, who had met with a number of leaders and politicians to discuss a new electoral law, was seeking to reach consensus on a hybrid vote law based on Berri’s proposal with some amendments.
The speaker’s hybrid proposal calls for half of the 128 members of Parliament to be elected via a winner-takes-all-system and the other half under proportional representation.
Berri warned rival political factions Tuesday that they would have to choose between the 1960 law and the Orthodox proposal if they failed to reach agreement on a new voting system by the end of next week.
The 1960 law adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system.
The Orthodox plan, which has been spurned by President Michel Sleiman, the Future Movement, Jumblatt and independent Christian March 14 lawmakers, allows each sect to elect its own MPs based on proportional representation with a single, nationwide electoral district.
The lack of agreement on a new electoral law among rival political groups has raised the possibility of postponing the elections, and consequently extending Parliament’s mandate.
Rival politicians, including Rai’s emissary, have been holding talks to bridge the gap over a new electoral law.
Tasked by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, former deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli met with Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel to discuss the latest developments in the electoral law impasse.
“The visit ... is aimed at informing Gemayel and the Kataeb [Party] of the outcome of the meeting in Maarab [between Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil],” Ferzli, architect of the Orthodox proposal, told reporters in Bikfaya.
“After today’s meeting, we are more convinced that the Orthodox draft is the [viable] choice while maintaining hope of finding another law that gains the consensus of all the Lebanese,” he added.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, from Jumblatt’s bloc, said the elections should be held based on the 1960 law if no agreement was reached on a new voting system.
“It is clear that the proposal which has received majority approval is the hybrid law ... However, we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of adopting the still valid 1960 law if no agreement is reached on a new electoral law,” he said after meeting caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.
Meanwhile, no progress was reported in Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam’s efforts to form a new Cabinet.
Berri was quoted by the MPs as saying that major parliamentary blocs should be represented in the new Cabinet according to their political weight, rejecting the demand that centrist politicians – a clear reference to Sleiman, Salam and Jumblatt – receiving the same share of portfolios as those of the March 8 and March 14 parties.
But Abu Faour urged the March 8 and March 14 parties to accept Salam’s proposed distribution of ministerial portfolios. “The distribution [of portfolios] proposed by the prime minister-designate is just and fair and should be accepted.”
Salam was reported to have suggested a 24-member Cabinet lineup to be divided equally among March 8, March 14, and the centrist bloc.