Be­tween rock and hard place over vote law dead­lock

With just a few days left be­fore dead­line, deal on leg­is­la­tion still eludes par­ties

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Hus­sein Dakroub

BEIRUT: With no im­mi­nent break­through in the month­s­long dead­lock over an elec­toral law, Le­banon Thurs­day ap­peared to be fac­ing a po­lit­i­cal dilemma over how to deal with the up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions as the Feb. 21 dead­line draws near and ri­val par­ties are still un­able to agree on a new vote sys­tem.

Al­though al­most all par­lia­men­tary blocs have de­clared their op­po­si­tion to the dis­puted 1960 ma­jori­tar­ian elec­toral law, their fail­ure to agree on a new vot­ing for­mula raised the pos­si­bil­ity of ei­ther a tech­ni­cal de­lay of the elec­tions, sched­uled for May 21, or plung­ing the coun­try into a par­lia­men­tary vac­uum, ac­cord­ing to some politi­cians.

Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun, who has vowed not to hold the elec­tions un­der the 1960 law, Thurs­day re­it­er­ated his sup­port for a vote sys­tem based on pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, a stance strongly backed by Hezbol­lah and the Amal Move­ment.

“The pro­por­tional sys­tem is the best for a new elec­toral law,” Aoun said dur­ing a meet­ing with a del­e­ga­tion from the Na­tional Au­dio­vi­sual Me­dia Coun­cil led by its head Ab­del-Hadi Mah­fouz at Baabda Palace. Aoun spoke of “pos­i­tive fac­tors” in the on­go­ing at­tempts to reach agree­ment on a pro­por­tional vote law, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment re­leased by his me­dia of­fice.

Among visi­tors to Baabda Palace Thurs­day was for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Tam­mam Salam, who dis­cussed with Aoun the lat­est po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in Le­banon and the “pos­i­tive re­sults” of the pres­i­dent’s re­cent trips to Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar, Egypt and Jor­dan, the state­ment said.

Aoun’s par­lia­men­tary Change and Re­form bloc said the 1960 law was no longer valid to gov­ern the May elec­tions be­cause it is in con­tra­dic­tion with the Taif Ac­cord.

“An elec­toral law is top pri­or­ity be­cause it is the ba­sis to re­build state au­thor­ity … and the leg­isla­tive au­thor­ity is bound to be in con­form­ity with the re­quire­ments of the [Na­tional] Char­ter and the Con­sti­tu­tion,” Jus­tice Min­is­ter Salim Jreis­sati from the Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment told re­porters af­ter the bloc’s weekly meet­ing chaired by FPM leader and For­eign Min­is­ter Ge­bran Bas­sil.

The jus­tice min­is­ter said that con­trary to the cur­rent pes­simism over reach­ing a new vote law, “there is an ad­vanced pro­posal that blends [pro­vi­sions] of the ma­jori­tar­ian and pro­por­tional sys­tems within a uni­fied cri­te­rion to en­sure true and ef­fec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

“We are to­day wait­ing for firm re­sponses to this pro­posal,” he said, with­out pro­vid­ing fur­ther de­tails about the pro­posal.

MP Walid Khoury, from Aoun’s bloc, pre­dicted that a hy­brid vote law would even­tu­ally be en­dorsed, dis­pelling fears of cross­ing the Feb. 21 dead­line to call on vot­ers to pre­pare for the May 21 elec­tions.

“We will in­evitably reach a new elec­toral law. Fears of a con­sti­tu­tional dead­line are not jus­ti­fied. We will prob­a­bly go to a hy­brid law,” Khoury told the Free Le­banon ra­dio sta­tion. He said be­hind-the-scene talks are cur­rently be­ing held by ri­val fac­tions to agree on a new law.

How­ever, Kataeb Party leader MP Sami Ge­mayel painted a gloomy pic­ture of the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, say­ing that Le­banon is braced for “bad op­tions” fol­low­ing the par­ties’ fail­ure to agree on a new vot­ing sys­tem. Ge­mayel met with Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri and urged the gov­ern­ment to present a draft elec­toral law to Par­lia­ment to vote on it.

“We want to re­mind the pub­lic opin­ion that a few days sep­a­rate us from an im­por­tant stage, af­ter which Le­banon’s demo­cratic sys­tem would be sub­jected to prob­lems,” Ge­mayel told re­porters af­ter meet­ing Hariri at the Grand Serail.

“On Feb. 21, if no law has been ap­proved by Par­lia­ment, as it is likely, we are headed to­ward op­tions that are all bad: ei­ther elec­tions are held on the ba­sis of the 1960 law, which means the ex­ten­sion of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal class for four new years, or we ex­tend the man­date of Par­lia­ment, or face par­lia­men­tary vac­uum. The three so­lu­tions are un­ac­cept­able for us,” he said.

Ge­mayel said he re­gret­ted that the gov­ern­ment did not de­vise a draft elec­toral law to present to Par­lia­ment ahead of the Feb. 21 dead­line, and also re­gret­ted that the leg­is­la­ture did not place a raft of elec­toral pro­pos­als on its agenda and did not take any se­ri­ous mea­sure to en­dorse a new vot­ing sys­tem.

“There­fore, we are to­day fac­ing a dilemma that will be­gin in a few days af­ter Feb.21,” he said.

Ge­mayel said that Hariri had in­formed him that con­tacts were un­der­way over a new elec­toral law but did not reach re­sults. “We are say­ing the gov­ern­ment must shoul­der its re­spon­si­bil­ity and sub­mit a draft law to Par­lia­ment, which should give it pri­or­ity in the leg­isla­tive ses­sion to vote on it,” he said.

He urged Speaker Nabih Berri to put draft elec­toral laws al­ready pre­sented to Par­lia­ment to vot­ing. “The Con­sti­tu­tion says that th­ese laws should be put to vote in Par­lia­ment, and fail­ing to do so amounts to neg­li­gence. For us, it is a col­lu­sion to keep Le­banon in its cur­rent sit­u­a­tion,” Ge­mayel said.

In light of dif­fi­cul­ties block­ing an agree­ment on a new vote sys­tem, for­mer Pres­i­dent Amine Ge­mayel pro­posed the elec­tion of a Par­lia­ment for a 2-year term dur­ing which law­mak­ers would gear their ef­forts to­ward ex­plor­ing a mod­ern elec­toral law.

“Since there are dif­fi­cul­ties in en­act­ing a new elec­toral law on the ba­sis of pro­por­tion­al­ity or a hy­brid law, the most ap­pro­pri­ate so­lu­tion is a re­turn to small districts,” Ge­mayel told re­porters af­ter meet­ing Ma­ronite Pa­tri­arch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, north of Beirut.

“Based on pro­pos­als by some [politi­cians], Par­lia­ment’s term would be two years, dur­ing which [law­mak­ers] would study a mod­ern and so­phis­ti­cated law.”

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