New electoral law? Not for 2013

In this picture released by the Free Patriotic Movement media office, FPM leader Michel Aoun speaks during the weekly meeting of his bloc in Rabieh, Lebanon, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. (Charbel Nakhoul/The Daily Star, HO)

A breakthrough in a new Parliamentary election law is unlikely given how polarized the issue is among major parties, according to Grand Serail sources.

Parliamentary sources said that President Michel Sleiman, who does not have any representation in Parliament, is the one pushing the issue.

According to the sources, Sleiman is calling for a new electoral law based on a system of proportional representation in hopes that “it would allow his candidate, or candidates, in Jbeil and Kesrouan qadas a chance of success against [Free Patriotic Movement leader] Michel Aoun’s candidates.”

The sources added that it has become apparent to everyone that Sleiman’s son-in-law has begun electoral activities in Kesrouan and that relatives of the president in Jbeil are following the same path.

Some believe that an electoral law based on PR could break the FPM’s hold on Parliament seats in the Christian areas of Mount Lebanon, such as Kesrouan, Jbeil and Metn.

For his part, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who is eager to see a new election law passed, also does not have any representation in Parliament, leaving him with little leverage to push the issue, sources added. This fact, however, has not prevented him making himself heard on the issue, which could be interpreted as a sign of loyalty to the president, since he entered government through Baabda.

Meanwhile, it’s widely known that the parties powerful enough to push for a new electoral law are the Future Movement, the FPM, Hezbollah and Amal, in addition to Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt.

However, ministerial sources say that the statements of most of these groups do not suggest that they want to pass a new law, especially as the date of the elections draws closer and a new law would require time for candidates and the voting public to become familiar with it, especially if a complicated PR-based law is adopted.

The sources added that the 2013 elections would be held under the current 1960 law, and said that all political parties are currently operating with that assumption in mind.

The Grand Serail sources said that the parties that claim to prefer PR, such as Amal and Hezbollah, are not doing anything to move forward the issue because they are quite certain that passing such a law would be impossible in light of current circumstances and the polarization of the issue.

As for the Future Movement, its sources said that the issue is at the forefront of internal discussions, but the party is moving conservatively, given that alliances might shift and Jumblatt is not in favor of such electoral proposals.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati cannot champion a new electoral law, even if his efforts overlap with Sleiman’s, because neither has sufficient votes in Parliament to pass the law. Thus, if the PR proposal is discussed at the upcoming Cabinet meeting Friday, as stated by Charbel, it will only be – should it happen at all – a brief occasion for supporters to state their positions.

MP Alain Aoun, a member of a Christian committee working on an electoral law proposal, said: “There is still no possibility that a new electoral law will be approved.”

He added that the proposal for each sect to elect its own representatives put forth by the Orthodox Gathering has been ruled out completely. Aoun’s committee will hold a meeting Friday in a bid to come to an agreement on a [new] Christian proposal for the Parliamentary elections, which they will present to other groups.

“During our discussions with everyone, we noticed that there are no straightforward positions on approving a new electoral law. It’s obvious that those who do not wish to change the current law cannot, in light of current circumstances, make public their stances because of consequences,” he added.

Parties’ real positions are difficult to pin down. For instance, the secretary-general of the Progressive Socialist Party, Zafer Naser, said: “There is no conflict between [the party] and Sleiman and Mikati, regardless of issues we support or oppose.”

“We were the first who called for a PR, through the late Kamal Jumblatt [founder of the PSP], and we are not against PR at all, but achieving it requires conditions,” he said, arguing that both political and electoral reform are necessary.

“How can it [a new electoral law] be achieved in light of the sectarian system?” he asked.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 03, 2012, on page 3.




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