MON 21 - 5 - 2018
Date: Apr 8, 2017
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Hariri optimistic on new vote law deal, open to proportional
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A special Cabinet session set for next week promises to be crucial in ongoing efforts to reach consensus on a new electoral law to govern the upcoming parliamentary elections, official sources said Friday.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri Friday boosted chances of reaching a deal over a new vote law by indicating that his Future Movement was ready to accept a hybrid vote system, or even an electoral law based on full proportional representation, as demanded by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. He said the Cabinet would send soon a new draft electoral law to Parliament for final ratification.

Hariri has called for a special Cabinet session at 11 a.m. Monday at Baabda Palace to be chaired by President Michel Aoun to discuss a new voting system to replace the disputed 1960 winner-take-all formula.

“The Cabinet session is devoted to exploring and reaching consensus on a new electoral law. If no consensus is reached during Monday’s session, another session will be held ahead of the Easter holiday,” an official source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

The source said that following Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s return from a trip to Australia Friday, behind-the-scene consultations between the Free Patriotic Movement, the Future Movement, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah would be stepped up to reach an agreement on a new voting system.

A Hezbollah delegation will meet Aoun at the weekend to present him with a proportional vote proposal aimed at breaking the monthslong deadlock over a new electoral law to govern the upcoming parliamentary elections, a source told The Daily Star.

The Hezbollah move is a further indication that the party, which is allied with the FPM, has rejected Bassil’s latest hybrid vote law proposal that had already been spurned by the Amal Movement, MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc and the Marada Movement. Bassil’s proposal calls for electing half of Parliament’s 128 members under a majoritarian system and the other half under a proportional formula in different districts. Only the Lebanese Forces, the FPM’s key ally, has supported Bassil’s proposal.

Rivals’ agreement on a new vote law is deemed essential before Parliament can meet to approve what Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and other officials called a “technical” extension of Parliament’s term, which expires on June 20, to allow for the implementation of the new law.

Parliamentary elections were originally scheduled to take place between May 21 and June 21, but the continued deadlock over a vote law would lead a delay of the polls.

“I stress our responsibility as a Cabinet to reach a new electoral law and spare the country extension [of Parliament’s term] or the risks of [parliamentary] vacuum,” Hariri said in a speech in Parliament Friday night, responding to lawmakers’ comments at the end of two-day sessions to quiz the government over its performance. “We will return to Parliament within a short period to discuss a draft [electoral] law that gains the consensus of all lawmakers, God willing,” he said.

Noting that all rival political factions are eager to reach a new electoral law, Hariri said: “We want a [vote] law that allays the concerns of [minorities’] representation ... We are all minorities and we want to protect each other ... We will continue our work over an electoral law because I know that everyone wants a new law. We want a new law, but what’s more important is that we want consensus over this law.”

Hariri’s remarks appear to discount the possibility of voting either in Cabinet or in Parliament on a new vote law proposal to prevent divisions. Former Minister Wael Abu Faour from Jumblatt’s bloc warned during Thursday’s Parliament session against voting on an electoral law, while stressing the need for consensus. Speaker Nabih Berri has also warned that voting on a raft of draft electoral laws in Parliament would spark “a civil war” in the country.In his speech, Hariri also promised to send to Parliament soon the 2017 draft state budget that was endorsed by the Cabinet last week for final ratification by lawmakers for the first time in 12 years. He said that the Cabinet was determined to approve the public sector’s salary hike bill after the bill had been endorsed by joint parliamentary committees.

Hariri reiterated the government’s resolve to fight corruption in the public administration by all means and improve public sector productivity. “Our decision is to boost national unity, prevent divisions and work for Lebanon’s interest,” he said.

Hariri signaled his acceptance of a fully proportional vote law, in his latest gesture aimed at breaking the impasse over a new electoral system. “We were against proportionality at one of the stages. But we were open to proportionality and a hybrid law,” Hariri told reporters outside Parliament. “Now what is being proposed is full proportionality. We have no problem with this.”

“We have reached positive stages. I think we are capable of reaching a [vote] law,” he said. “We will discuss an electoral law Monday and we will seek to reach a solution. Everyone is keen on this matter. We support a law that ensures just representation.”

In their speeches during the parliamentary sessions in the past two days to question the Cabinet over its performance, lawmakers from various blocs highlighted the urgency to agree on a new electoral law, fight corruption while warning of the country falling into parliamentary vacuum.

MP Boutros Harb, an outspoken critic of the Cabinet, decried all electoral law proposals. “We are facing a crisis of approving a new electoral law that achieves true and effective popular representation,” Harb said. “What is being proposed are not electoral draft laws that achieve true representation, but projects aimed at eliminating political diversity.”

Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel, whose party is not represented in the Cabinet, said: “The Cabinet might gain Parliament’s confidence but it will not gain our confidence and the Lebanese people’s confidence.”

Gemayel criticized Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil’s electricity reform plan for renting power barges “instead of building power plants.”

Lebanon already has two ships producing 370 MW. They are owned by the Turkish company Karadeniz Powership Orhan. Abi Khalil wants to lease two additional power barges to give the Energy Ministry and Electricite du Liban more time to build new power plants that have the capacity to provide all of Lebanon with 24 hours of electricity in the future.

LF MP George Adwan criticized appointments in public posts that, he said, were not based on merit and integrity. “We hope this matter will not be repeated,” he added. He called for measures to curb corruption and the squandering of public money.

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