SAT 22 - 7 - 2017
 
Date: Mar 16, 2017
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Opposition mounts to Bassil’s vote law proposal
Hussein Dakroub
BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s latest hybrid vote law proposal is bound to fail like his two previous proposals, parliamentary sources said, after the plan drew fire Tuesday from MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc and the Marada Movement, while other key parties kept mum.

The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc totally ignored Bassil’s proposal in its statement issued after its weekly meeting Tuesday, signaling that the bloc might be waiting for reactions from other parties before declaring its final stance.

While the Amal Movement, Hezbollah and the Kataeb Party have yet to comment on Bassil’s new vote law that calls for electing half of Parliament’s 128 members under a majoritarian system and the other half under a proportional formula in different districts, the Lebanese Forces, the Free Patriotic Movement’s key ally, has welcomed it.

A parliamentary source described Bassil’s proposal as “stillborn.”

“Bassil’s proposal will not pass because it combines the drawbacks of the 1960 electoral law and the Orthodox Law,” the source told The Daily Star. “The proposal basically aims to boost Bassil’s political standing as well as that of the Free Patriotic Movement at the expense of other Christian parties.”

“Worse still, Bassil presented his proposal in a provocative manner targeting the Druze community when he called for the creation of a senate to be headed by a non-Maronite Christian,” said the source who belongs to a major parliamentary bloc.

MP Wael Abu Faour from Jumblatt’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc said Bassil’s proposal was doomed to fail.

“I don’t think that the electoral proposal made by Minister Bassil has a big chance of being adopted,” Abu Faour said after meeting with Information Minister Melhem Riachi. “Irrespective of our stance, I think that there are many parties that do not see this as the best electoral law.”

Abu Faour also rejected Bassil’s call for the creation of a senate – stipulated by the Taif Accord – to be headed by non-Maronite Christian.

“It’s not useful to enter into a hypothetical argument. The minutes and deliberations of the Taif [Accord] were clear. When the formation of a senate was proposed, it was proposed on the basis of granting [its presidency] to the Druze community,” he said.

In a TV interview Tuesday night, Abu Faour said: “We reject Bassil’s proposed law because it does not adopt a unified standard. This law makes the election of some MPs according to sectarian representation and other MPs according to national representation.” Former minister Youssef Saadeh from the Marada Movement rejected Bassil’s proposal outright and accused the FPM leader in a tweet of seeking to eliminate the Marada group with this proposal.

The proposal was Bassil’s latest initiative aimed at breaking the monthslong deadlock over a new electoral law to replace the disputed 1960 majoritarian system ahead of parliamentary polls slated for May 21. Bassil’s two previous hybrid vote proposals that called for electing a portion of Parliament’s 128 seats under a winner-take-all system and another part under a proportional law had been spurned by Jumblatt’s bloc and other groups.

In announcing his new proposal Monday, Bassil laced it with a call for the creation of a senate to be headed by a non-Maronite Christian, a move that has been rejected by Jumblatt’s bloc and other Druze politicians on the grounds that the senate should be headed by a Druze under an unwritten agreement reportedly reached by Muslim and Christian lawmakers following the signing of the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War.

In a quick response, the FPM hit back at critics of Bassil’s proposal, calling on them to offer alternative plans.

“What matters is that every party that has given a negative response or those who will do so must know that we have entered a stage that can no longer endure waiting,” MP Alain Aoun told a news conference following the weekly meeting of the FPM’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc chaired by Bassil Tuesday. “Any of the parties that rejects [Bassil’s proposal] must justify its rejection or propose alternatives or possible amendments.”

“We have shown full flexibility in discussions in order to reach a [vote] formula to break the current stalemate,” Aoun said. “ We have tried and will continue trying to reach an agreement [on a vote law], but the other parties must shoulder their responsibility to take initiatives and propose solutions for the crisis we are facing.”

Bassil has been involved in behind-the-scene consultations with Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from the Amal Movement, and Nader Hariri, chief of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s staff, aimed at exploring a new voting system to replace the 1960 law used in the last elections in 2009.

Aoun said that the FPM was waiting for responses to Bassil’s proposal in the next 24 hours from the other parties, particularly Hezbollah, a key ally of the FPM. He reiterated the FPM’s rejection of the 1960 electoral law and a new extension of Parliament’s mandate, which was extended in 2013 and 2014.

“Elections will not be held under the 1960 law and there will be no extension [of Parliament’s term]. We will oppose this with all constitutional means,” Aoun said.

Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, one of three Lebanese Forces ministers in the Cabinet, voiced his party’s support for Bassil’s proposal.

“Generally speaking, we don’t have any remarks or objections toward the electoral law [proposed by Bassil],” Hasbani said after meeting President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace. “We consider this to be a hybrid law that contains positive aspects on which we can build to reach a fair electoral law representing everyone.”

Separately, the Future bloc strongly condemned threats by Israeli officials against Lebanon and its institutions and warned against giving the Jewish state any pretext to attack the country.

“Seeing that the Israeli enemy does not wait for a justification to attack Lebanon due to its ambitions and aggressive history, the bloc at the same time highlights the importance of being wary of the intentions of the enemy which continues to work hard to benefit from any pretexts or favorable conditions to launch attacks on Lebanon,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting. “Due to extraordinary and devastating conditions sweeping across our Arab region, Lebanon has become the only stable oasis in the Arab region.”

Hariri Monday asked Bassil to send a letter to the U.N. Security Council informing it of Israel’s repeated threats against Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Parliament is set to hold a legislative session at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to debate and approve a raft of draft laws and proposals, including a salary scale bill for civil servants and public and private school teachers.

The Parliament session comes amid mounting protests by lawmakers, labor unions, banks and private businesses against a series of taxes proposed to cover the cost of the bill, estimated at LL1.2 trillion ($800 million).

In tandem with the Parliament session, government secondary school teachers and a union of retired teachers are planning to stage a sit-in on Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square Wednesday morning to protest what they viewed as low salary increases proposed in the public sector’s salary scale bill that fell short of their expectations.


PSP chief dismisses Bassil's Senate remarks

BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblatt Wednesday dismissed Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s remarks on the establishment of a Senate.

"Some brotherly advice: the Senate is tied to the abolishing of political confessionalism according to the Taif [agreement],” Jumblatt said in a tweet.

The PSP leader was referring to Bassil’s proposal to have a non-Maronite Christian leading the Senate, contrary to what the Taif Accord stipulates.

The proposal was Bassil’s latest initiative aimed at breaking the monthslong deadlock over a new electoral law to replace the disputed 1960 majoritarian system ahead of parliamentary polls slated for May 21. Bassil’s two previous hybrid vote proposals that called for electing a portion of Parliament’s 128 seats under a winner-take-all system and another part under a proportional law had been spurned by Jumblatt’s bloc and other groups.

In announcing his new proposal Monday, Bassil laced it with a call for the creation of a senate to be headed by a non-Maronite Christian, a move that has been rejected by Jumblatt’s bloc and other Druze politicians on the grounds that the senate should be headed by a Druze under an unwritten agreement reportedly reached by Muslim and Christian lawmakers following the signing of the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War.

Jumblatt's opposition to the proposal was preceded by Democratic Gathering bloc MP Wael Abu Faour, who Tuesday expressed doubt over whether "the electoral proposal made by Minister Bassil has a big chance of being adopted.”

The PSP’s Druze political rivals, most notably Minister of the Displaced Talal Arslan and former Minister Wiam Wahhab also vocally opposed Bassil’s plan.

Apart from the Lebanese Forces' support for the plan, other political parties in Lebanon have yet to comment on it.



 
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