Between rock and hard place over vote law deadlock
With just a few days left before deadline, deal on legislation still eludes parties
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Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc said the 1960 law was no longer valid to govern the May elections because it is in contradiction with the Taif Accord.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.”