BEIRUT: Political rivals have engaged in an intensified flurry of activity in an attempt to clinch a deal on a new electoral law and subsequently avert a vacuum in the legislative body before Parliament’s term expires next month, political sources said Sunday. With chances of an agreement on a new electoral law being reached this week are slim at best, given the rival factions’ diametrically opposed positions on a voting system, a Parliament session, scheduled for May 15 to extend the legislature’s term for one year, is likely to be postponed to give the parties more time to narrow their differences, the sources said.
Despite the lingering differences over the number and size of electoral constituencies, the main political parties are in agreement that proportionality should be the core of any vote law to replace the disputed 1960 majoritarian system used in the last parliamentary elections in 2009, political sources said.
“An intense flurry of political activity, mostly behind-the-scene, has been launched by the various sides with the aim of reaching an agreement on a new electoral law based on proportionality with Lebanon divided into 11 small electoral constituencies,” a source at the Grand Serail told The Daily Star.
“The parties have also agreed on keeping the Chouf and Aley as a single electoral district to appease MP Walid Jumblatt,” the source said.
He added that the Cabinet is set to meet under Prime Minister Saad Hariri at 11 a.m. at the Grand Serail Wednesday with normal topics on the agenda. Although an electoral draft law is not listed on the agenda, ministers might opt to discuss it from outside the agenda, the source said.
Senior officials from Hezbollah and the Future Movement sounded optimistic that a new electoral legislation would eventually be endorsed before the expiry of Parliament’s mandate on June 20 to avert a fresh parliamentary crisis with all the far-reaching political implications it entails. “There will be a new electoral law before June 20 on the basis of complete proportionality,” MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s 13-member bloc in Parliament, was quoted as saying by MTV after attending a signing ceremony for President Michel Aoun’s book “What I Believe In” at Baabda Palace Sunday.
He said that efforts would also be made by rival factions to agree on the number and size of electoral constituencies under a proportional vote system.
Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury, affiliated with the Future Movement, said a ministerial committee tasked with drafting a new electoral law would meet under Hariri Tuesday ahead of the Cabinet session.
“Numerous contacts on the sidelines [of the Cabinet and ministerial committee’s meetings] are being held to agree on a new electoral law. We are optimistic that there will be a new electoral law,” he said.
Minister of Sports and Youth Mohammad Fneish, one of two ministers representing Hezbollah in the Cabinet, downplayed the Parliament May 15 session to extend the legislature’s term. “We still have time until June 19 to reach an agreement on a new vote law. It’s not too late,” Fneish told The Daily Star. He reaffirmed Hezbollah’s position on supporting an electoral law based on full-fledged proportional representation as the best formula to ensure true and genuine representation for all the parties.
However, a political source said if no agreement was reached on a new electoral law before June 19, parliamentary elections would be held on Sept. 20 under the 1960 sectarian-based winner-take-all electoral law that divides Lebanon into small and medium-sized constituencies.
In an unexpected move during last week’s Cabinet session at Baabda Palace, Aoun said he supported voting on an electoral law in the absence of an agreement in order to avoid a vacuum in Parliament.
“There should be a new electoral law either by consensus or by voting,” Information Minister Melhem Riachi, one of three ministers representing the LF, told MTV.
Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, also affiliated with the LF, defended a Cabinet vote in the absence of an agreement.
“We support the Constitution which states that ‘a decision is taken by consensus and if this is unattainable, by voting,’” Hasbani told the Voice of Lebanon radio station (93.3). He added that there is “a wide range” within the Cabinet that supported the principle of voting, while there are others who stressed consensus on an electoral law.
Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt staunchly oppose a vote on an electoral law, and called for an agreement on this sensitive issue. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has also cautioned against resorting to a vote on an electoral law.
NBN channel, which is affiliated with Berri, said the speaker considers that voting on an electoral law would “complicate matters, rather than solve them.”
Former Minister Wael Abu Faour from Jumblatt’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc implicitly lashed out at Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s latest sectarian-based two-stage “qualification” vote law proposal, warning that this law would lead to Lebanon’s partition.
Bassil’s “qualification” proposal has also drawn opposition from Berri and the Lebanese Forces.
“The PSP will not forcefully accept any electoral law based on dividing and separating the Lebanese and the building of separation walls among them,” Abu Faour told a rally commemorating the 68th anniversary of the founding of the Progressive Socialist Party in the Iqlim al-Kharroub district, south of Beirut. “All [vote] laws being proposed on the basis of separation and division are a prelude to an electoral partition, and probably tomorrow to a political partition and a geographical partition.”