THU 24 - 5 - 2018
Date: May 17, 2017
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Vote law back to square one, Bassil firm on his proposal
Hussein Dakroub
BEIRUT: The latest intensified flurry of activity, including high-level meetings, has failed to bridge the wide gap among rivals over a new electoral law, bringing the monthslong deadlock back to square one and raising fears of either a new extension of Parliament’s term, or returning to the disputed 1960 majoritarian system to govern the upcoming elections, political sources said Tuesday.

“Lingering differences over the shape of a new electoral law and the number of electoral districts are making it difficult for rivals to agree on a voting system acceptable to all the parties,” a source told The Daily Star.

“Therefore, if no agreement is reached before June 20 [when Parliament’s mandate expires], the country is poised for one of two bitter choices: A new extension of Parliament’s term, or having the elections under the 1960 law in order to avoid a parliamentary vacuum,” the source said.

Perhaps, the seemingly intractable crisis over a new vote law, that has begun raising serious questions about the viability of the country’s sectarian-based political system, was best manifested Tuesday when Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said his Free Patriotic Movement stood firm on his sectarian-based two-stage “qualification” vote law proposal, which has drawn opposition from Speaker Nabih Berri, MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc and the Lebanese Forces.

Lawmakers from Berri’s and Jumblatt’s blocs have even pronounced Bassil’s proposal dead shortly after it was announced last month. The proposal has also been blasted by some lawmakers from the Future Movement’s bloc who argued that it would deepen sectarian divisions.

Bassil, the FPM leader, said that in light of the rival parties’ failure to agree on a new electoral law, the alternative left is the Orthodox law or the “qualification” law.

“We might have missed a new opportunity to agree [on a vote law] and I don’t know why and in whose interest, especially when we have no other alternative,” Bassil told reporters following the weekly meeting of the Change and Reform bloc he chaired in Rabieh.

“Amid our rejection of an extension [of Parliament’s term, the 1960 law and a vacuum, as do all the Lebanese, this means that we have nothing left to agree on except by returning to our essential proposal: the Orthodox Law,” he said, referring to the law proposed in 2012 that calls for each sect to elect its MPs.

Admitting that the Orthodox Gathering Law has not gained enough support after it was rejected by most parliamentary blocs on the grounds that it would aggravate sectarian divisions in the country, Bassil said that his “qualification” law has been accepted by Hezbollah, the Future Movement and the FPM.

“The qualification law is the only thing available today in our hands and which enjoys a numerical majority as stipulated by the National Charter,” he said. Bassil reiterated the FPM’s demand for a new electoral law to correct Christian representation as stipulated by the National Charter on equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians. President Michel Aoun Monday defended the “qualification” law proposal, denying it was sectarian-oriented.

In an apparent response to Berri’s withdrawal of his proposal for the creation of a senate, Bassil said: “We regret after we have been informed that the idea of a senate has been aborted because apparently it has been linked to uncalculated and unprepared matters.”

Bassil’s tough stance came two days after crucial talks between Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri had failed to make any major breakthrough in the deadlock over a new electoral law. It also came after Berri has withdrawn his proportional vote law proposal after it was rejected by the FPM.

As part of the ongoing talks over a new vote law, Adwan met Tuesday night with Jumbaltt at the latter’s residence in Clemenceau. Adwan has been shuttling between Berri, Hariri and Bassil in a bid to reach a unified formula.

Also, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, the FPM’s secretary, met with LF chief Samir Geagea at the latter’s residence in Maarab, north of Beirut, as part of the two parties’ coordination on the electoral law impasse. The meeting was also attended by Information Minister Melhem Riachi.

Although the parliamentary Future bloc made no mention of the talks on a new electoral law in a statement issued after its weekly meeting, Future MP Ammar Houri said that Hariri has been working hard to help find common ground between rivals to break the deadlock. “Prime Minister Saad Hariri is working day and night to tackle the electoral law issue and is trying to reconcile [the parties’] viewpoints. He has succeed in bridging the gap [between parties],” Houri told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. “Dialogue is ongoing. But there have been some complications,” he said.

Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel blasted the government for failing to endorse a new electoral law. “There is a talk two weeks before the expiry of Parliament’s mandate about constitutional amendments, like the creation of a senate which is essential. But those who could not in eight years approve an electoral law, can they convince us that within two weeks they will establish a senate and approve its prerogatives ... and hold parliamentary elections within two weeks?” he told a news conference at the party’s headquarters in Beirut’s Saifi neighborhood. “Show some respect for the Lebanese people.”

He accused rival factions of seeking to endorse an electoral law to serve their own interests.

“The goal of an electoral law is to suit the Lebanese people and its ability to change,” Gemayel said, adding: “We are talking about an electoral law and you [politicians] are talking about an electoral compromise and agreement to know the results of the elections beforehand.”

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