BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri said Tuesday that a Parliament session to extend the legislative body’s term for one year would not be held later this month if there was no agreement on a new electoral law, thus averting a fresh crisis amid staunch opposition to the extension by the country’s main Christian parties.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned that Lebanon teetered on the edge of the abyss over the failure to agree on a new electoral law and called on rival factions to make concessions to rescue the country.
In what appeared to be a reversal of his position to convene Parliament on May 15, overriding Christian opposition to the extension, Berri was quoted as telling visitors at his Ain al-Tineh residence: “I am not a supporter of an extension [of Parliament’s term]. If there is no agreement on an electoral law before May 15, the Parliament session scheduled on that date will not be held.”
Referring to a Cabinet meeting set to be held at Baabda Palace Thursday with an electoral draft bill being the top item on the agenda, Berri said he expected the session to witness “general discussions on the electoral law issue because the agenda does not include an electoral draft law.”
Berri’s remarks come as rival factions remained sharply split over what voting system to adopt for the upcoming parliamentary elections despite numerous high-level meetings and behind-the-scene consultations held over the past few weeks to agree on a new electoral legislation to replace the disputed 1960 majoritarian law.
The parties are racing against time to reach a deal over a vote law ahead of the May 15 deadline, when Parliament is scheduled to meet to extend its term for one year amid strong opposition by the country’s three main Christian parties – the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb Party.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri last week announced he opposed a new Parliamentary extension, thus putting the Future Movement on the side of the Christian parties and virtually thwarting a quorum the legislature’s session.
Earlier in the day, Nasrallah stressed that a compromise was the key to ending the monthslong deadlock over a voting system ahead of the May 15 deadline to avert a new lengthy extension of Parliament’s term. “The issue of an electoral law is very sensitive and many [politicians] are treating this law as a matter of life or death,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech marking the party’s “Day of the Wounded.” “The entire country is on the edge of the abyss. If we don’t reach a new [vote] law, all the options – extension, a [parliamentary] vacuum or the 1960 law – are bad,” Nasrallah said. “Don’t push Lebanon toward the abyss. The time has passed and [political] maneuvers have ended and everyone must shoulder their full responsibility.”
Nasrallah, whose party has been lobbying with the Amal Movement for a vote law based on full proportional representation as the best formula to ensure true and genuine representation for all the parties, urged political adversaries to act seriously in the remaining days left to reach “a compromise over an electoral law and eventually rescue our country.”
“We need objectivity and concessions in order to reach a new electoral law. We call for understanding and consensus and continued dialogue to reach results on an electoral law.”
Nasrallah strongly denied that Hezbollah sought to impose a settlement on the other parties. “We don’t want to impose proportionality on anyone in Lebanon. We don’t even want to impose any electoral law on anyone,” he said. He also refuted accusations that Hezbollah was seeking to prevent Christians from electing their own representatives, namely preventing the FPM and its ally, the Lebanese Forces, from garnering a veto power in Parliament. “These accusations lack proof,” he said.
Nasrallah’s remarks drew a quick praise from Druze leaders.
“Nasrallah’s speech was very accurate and comprehensive [highlighting] the importance of consensus [on a vote law] and the need to emerge from the current vicious circle and its worrisome dimensions,” Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said in a tweet.
Lebanese Democratic Party leader MP Talal Arslan said Nasrallah’s speech stemmed from “keenness to protect everyone in this afflicted country.”
The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc ruled out any vacuum in the legislative body and underlined the importance of an inter-Lebanese agreement on a new electoral law to ensure justice and protect coexistence as stipulated by the Taif Accord.
“The bloc hopes that a consensual formula of an electoral law will be reached as soon as possible, thus enabling the Lebanese to defend their unique peaceful coexistence formula in a diversified society,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting. “The Lebanese are yearning to regain their right to elect their representatives in Parliament.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the FPM leader, said he would no longer make any new vote law suggestions after all his various proposals, including the latest sectarian-based two-stage “qualification” proposal, have been rejected. He called on parties that rejected his proposals to come forward with their own suggestions.
Bassil, however, hinted at the possibility of Cabinet and Parliament voting on a new electoral law if rival factions could not reach an agreement.
“We are under an obligation to endorse a new electoral law by consensus and compromise. There is no choice other than the approval of an electoral law,” Bassil told a news conference after chairing the weekly meeting of the FPM’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc.
He said that the other choices if Cabinet and Parliament do not vote on an electoral legislation are an extension of Parliament’s term or a vacuum in the legislative body.
Taking an indirect jab at those who oppose voting on an electoral law – namely Berri, Hezbollah and Jumblatt – Bassil said: “Those who reject voting on an electoral law, how can they accept voting on an extension [of Parliament’s term]? ... The Constitution says we have to vote.”
“We have begun a campaign to lobby for the approval of a new electoral law,” Bassil said. He added that there was still a chance to agree on a new electoral law before June 19.