BEIRUT: A newly formed ministerial committee tasked with drafting a new electoral law will intensify its efforts next week following the Easter holiday to reach an agreement on a voting system so as to avert the country falling into a political crisis, official sources said Thursday. Similarly, the Cabinet is set to hold intensive meetings next week to follow up on the committee’s deliberations aimed at narrowing differences between the rival factions over a new vote law to govern the upcoming parliamentary elections, the sources said.
“President Michel Aoun’s decision to postpone Parliament’s meeting by one month has placed all the parties before their responsibilities to act to speed up an agreement on a new electoral law,” an official source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.
“The ministerial committee will seek during its meetings to thrash out a final version of an electoral law and send it to the Cabinet to be examined and later endorsed by ministers,” the source said.
“The final version will be sent to Parliament, where it will be studied by joint parliamentary committees and later voted on by Parliament’s general assembly.”
In tandem with the work of the committee headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and formed by the Cabinet last Monday in the latest official attempt break the monthslong deadlock over a vote law, the source said behind-the-scene consultations between representatives of the four main parties – the Free Patriotic Movement, the Future Movement, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement – would continue to iron out any wrinkles that might block an accord on a new electoral law.
According to the source, the ministerial committee’s and the four parties’ talks are currently focused on Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s hybrid vote law proposal which calls for two rounds of voting: A qualifying round along a sectarian basis under a winner-take-all system and a conclusive voting round on a national basis under a proportional system.
The source described the ongoing talks over Bassil’s plan as “positive.”
MP Alain Aoun from the FPM said in a TV interview Thursday night that the remaining details over Bassil’s proposal should not pose a “hindrance to reaching an agreement on a new electoral law.”
Speaking to LBCI channel, MP Ali Fayyad from Hezbollah said: “Things were close to an agreement on a new electoral law. Following the [Easter] holiday, nothing should stop reaching an accord on a new electoral law.”
Nader Hariri, chief of Hariri’s staff, who has represented the Future Movement in the negotiations over a new vote system, said an important issue such an electoral law requires further talks and contacts. “There is no agreement [on an electoral law] yet ... And there will be no vacuum in Parliament,” Hariri told LBCI TV.
However, Bassil’s proposal came under fire from Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt who warned that such a proposed would eliminate Muslim-Christian partnership stated in the 1943 National Pact and the Taif Accord. “The mere talk about a qualifying voting round under a sectarian basis means the termination of [Muslim-Christian] partnership,” Jumblatt told a local TV station.
“The political class is devising an electoral law that divides the people instead of uniting them. An electoral law on a sectarian basis runs contrary to the Constitution. We will object to this formula,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Jumblatt said in a tweet on the 42nd anniversary of the 1975-90 Civil War: Some “42 years later, a sick mind comes out with an electoral law that divides instead of uniting.”
A day after suspending Parliament for one month to prevent a new extension of its term, thus averting a fresh political deadlock for now, Aoun reassured the Lebanese that there would be a new vote law that safeguards their interests and sets the stage for parliamentary elections in a free and democratic atmosphere.
By using his prerogative under Article 59 of the Constitution to postpone Parliament’s meeting by one month, Aoun has not only defused a major political crisis and averted a much-feared confrontation between supporters of the three major Christian parties – the FPM, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party – opposing extension of Parliament’s mandate and security forces, but also given rival factions a new lease of life to try to agree on a new electoral law to govern the upcoming elections.
Aoun said he was satisfied with the reactions of political parties, popular movements, and syndicates to his decision to postpone Thursday’s Parliament session originally devoted to extending the legislative body’s term for one year following two extensions in 2013 and 2014 in defiance of opposition by the three Christian parties and several civil society groups which vowed to prevent a new extension.
Aoun hoped that the one-month deadline would be an “additional opportunity during which an agreement is reached on a new law for parliamentary elections that embodies the aspirations and hopes of the Lebanese,” according to a statement released by the president’s media office. “The Lebanese will have a new electoral law as I have promised in my swearing-in speech,” Aoun said during meetings with visitors at Baabda Palace.
“I am confident that concerned leaders will intensify their contacts and meetings to reach such a law that safeguards the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese without any discrimination and paves the way for holding parliamentary elections at appropriate dates in an atmosphere of freedom and democracy,” he added.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said the suspension of Parliament meeting for one month gives “a chance for everyone to consult, discuss and reach a logical and just result” over a new electoral law.
“As a political group [Future Movement], we have been able during this period not to be part of this struggle [over a vote law]. We have facilitated all initiatives and projects. Prime Minister Saad Hariri opened his door and mind to anything offered to him. He did not in advance reject or agree to any project,” Machnouk said during a ceremony honoring former chief of Internal Security Forces Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous.
He added that Hariri has agreed to proportionality and distribution of electoral districts in any vote law. “I hope the one-month deadline is sufficient to reach the desired result,” Machnouk said.
The FPM, the LF and the Kataeb Party had called for mass protests Thursday in central Beirut to prevent Parliament from voting on an extension of its mandate to June 2018.
Speaker Nabih Berri, who had scheduled Thursday’s session to extend Parliament’s mandate for one year, welcomed Aoun’s decision and put off the session until May 15 to give a chance to rivals to agree on a new electoral law.
Aoun’s decision has also gained support from FPM officials. Bassil, the FPM leader, posted a quote from the Bible on Twitter, saying: “How many from Judah would have implemented a term extension on ill-fated day of April 13 had the president not postponed the meeting!”
Change and Reform bloc MP Amal Abou Zeid expressed similar sentiments of approval. “Postponing our actions [street protests) today happened after the suspension of Parliament’s session,” he told a local radio station, describing the situation as a “political explosion.” Abou Zeid warned that the FPM would mobilize on the streets if lawmakers did not agree on a new electoral law by May 15.