BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s two-stage voting proposal has apparently collapsed after drawing opposition from the country’s key political parties, dealing a blow to ongoing attempts to agree on a new electoral law aimed at averting a looming parliamentary crisis.
The opposition to Bassil’s proposal, better-known as the “qualification law,” has come even from the Lebanese Forces, the Free Patriotic Movement’s key ally, in addition to the Future Movement, the Amal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party, leaving the entire proposal in shreds.
As part of rival parties’ consultations aimed at ironing out differences over a new electoral law, MP George Adwan, the LF’s deputy chief, met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri Wednesday night at the latter’s Beirut Downtown residence.
Hariri and Adwan discussed “latest developments, particularly those related to ongoing contacts over an electoral law,” a statement released by the premier’s media office said.
President Michel Aoun also followed up in his meetings with visitors at Baabda Palace on “political developments and ongoing contacts to agree on a new electoral law,” according to a statement released by the president’s media office.
Amid the continuing deadlock over a new vote law, Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday that Lebanon’s salvation lay in a proportional electoral system, a position fully backed by Hezbollah and to some extent by the Future Movement. Aoun and his FPM have also voiced support for a proportional vote law. “The qualification law formula has collapsed,” Berri was quoted as telling visitors at his Ain al-Tineh residence.
Speaking during his weekly meeting with a number of lawmakers at Ain al-Tineh, Berri warned that a vacuum in Parliament, whose extended mandate expires on June 20, would mean the country’s political “death.”
“It’s not in anyone’s interest to reach the [Parliament] session on May 15 without an agreement on a new electoral law,” Berri was quoting by MPs as saying.
“Any [vote] law needs consensus. Proportionality is the key to salvation,” he said, adding: “Vacuum means death and will take the country to the unknown.”
Berri again urged the Cabinet to resume its sessions to “finalize and approve a draft [electoral] law and refer it to Parliament.”
Following Aoun’s suspension last week of Parliament’s meeting by one month to prevent a new extension of its term, thus averting a fresh political deadlock for now, Berri decided to convene the next session on May 15 to give rival factions additional time to agree on a new electoral law.Although the absence of meetings this week of the Cabinet and a ministerial committee tasked with drafting a new electoral law cast gloom on the ongoing talks over a voting system, Berri insisted that there was still time to agree on legislation to govern the upcoming parliamentary polls.
Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad, one of the 17 MPs who met Berri, sounded skeptical about an early breakthrough in the monthslong deadlock. “A solution lies in a return to proportionality. Political maturity is by returning to full proportionality, which will open the door to change and reform,” he said. “We have proposed six formulas based on complete proportionality. They can choose one of them. We were and are still positive. But consensus seems to be at a political dead-end in view of the objections we hear.”
Fayyad said Hezbollah had agreed to Bassil’s qualification law, but “opposition came from other parties.”
MP Ali Bazzi from Berri’s parliamentary bloc said the much-trumpeted hybrid vote law proposal that blends provisions of the proportional and winner-take-all systems has been put aside once and for all. “Speaker Berri upholds complete proportionality.”
Chantal Sarkis, the LF’s secretary-general, said Bassil’s qualification vote proposal has been taken off of the table because of the “many technical reservations over it voiced by several political parties.”
“Discussions have returned to the hybrid [vote] formula, between the first hybrid [proposal ] made by Bassil which calls for electing 69 MPs under the majoritarian system and 59 MPs under a proportional system, Speaker Berri’s plan, in addition to other proposals,” Sarkis told the Central News Agency.
Sarkis said the LF’s remarks on the qualification law dealt with technical aspects and were also linked to Christian representation. “We are waiting for answers to those remarks,” she said, adding: “We as LF consider a hybrid [vote law] as an essential springboard in electoral discussions.”
Future Movement MP Ammar Houri lashed out at Bassil’s proposal, saying it runs contrary to the spirit and provisions of the Constitution.
“The qualification law will bring us back to repugnant sectarianism and confessionalism. In my view, there is no chance for the qualification law to see the daylight in the form and formula being proposed,” Houri told a local radio station.
MP Antoine Saad from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc also blasted Bassil’s proposal. “The qualification law proposed by Minister Gebran Bassil is doomed dead at the ethical, political and popular levels because it stands away from national interest and it contradicts with coexistence,” Saad told Al-Fajr radio station.
Bassil’s proposal calls for half of the Parliament’s 128 members to be elected under a majoritarian system and the other half under a proportional formula in different districts. The voting would be held in two rounds, the first being sectarian and the second proportional.
Meanwhile, Berri told MPs that he received Wednesday the 2017 draft state budget that was endorsed by the Cabinet last month, and referred it to the Finance and Budget Committee for revision. He said the draft budget has been distributed to lawmakers to study it ahead of the committee’s meeting, adding that it did not include the public sector’s salary hike bill. He said the bill is already listed on the agenda of the May 15 Parliament session.
MP Ibrahim Kanaan, the head of the Finance and Budget Committee, called on committee members to meet on April 25 for a briefing by Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil on the draft budget plan.