Apr 25 2012
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Growing dispute on election law overshadows Cabinet
25 April 2012
BEIRUT: The Cabinet meets Wednesday to discuss a Foreign Ministry proposal to allow Lebanese in the diaspora to vote in next year’s parliamentary polls amid a widening dispute over a new election law that threatens to deepen the schism between the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the opposition March 14 coalition.
On the eve of the Cabinet session to be held at the Baabda Palace, President Michel Sleiman discussed with Prime Minister Najib Mikati Tuesday the Cabinet’s agenda, as well as last week’s heated parliamentary sessions which saw March 14 MPs launching scathing attacks on the government and calling on Mikati to resign.
Sleiman also discussed with Hezbollah’s Minister of State for Administrative Development Mohammad Fneish and Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc the political situation following the parliamentary sessions during which the Cabinet won a renewed vote of confidence from Parliament.
Sleiman said that he supported a draft election law based on a system of proportional representation and that he will not support any other law, the TV station said. It added that the president said a law calling for small electoral districts ran contrary to the 1989 Taif Accord, which ended the 1975-90 Civil War.
Sleiman has voiced his support for a draft electoral law based on a system of proportional representation.
During his visit to Australia last week, Sleiman pledged to press ahead with efforts to have the government adopt an election law based on proportional representation. He also vowed to prevent a return to the 1960 election law which adopts the qada as an electoral district and was used in the 2009 round. The president said the 1960 law produced “only sectarian fragmentation” in the country. Sleiman has also underlined the right of Lebanese expatriates to vote.Berri is also planning his own contacts with all parties, including the opposition March 14 coalition, to rally support for his electoral proposal.
An escalating row between the feuding parties over a new electoral law on whose basis the 2013 elections would be conducted is increasing tension in the country. The Cabinet is still discussing the draft electoral law on proportional representation drafted by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel last year.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, leader of the opposition Future bloc, has ruled out holding discussion of a draft electoral law on proportional representation in the shadow of Hezbollah’s weapons.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumbatt has voiced objections to this law, preferring a winner-take-all system with small electoral districts.
Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem said his party tended to support an election law based on proportional representation.
Ahead of the Cabinet session, Sleiman has met with Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour with whom he discussed the issue of expatriates voting and the need for embassies and consulates to be prepared for the procedure.
For his part, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun voiced support for an election law based on proportional representation. “We support proportional [representation] in any form,” Aoun told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc at his residence in Rabieh.
He said he also supported the right of Lebanese in the diaspora to vote in next year’s elections, but noted that the number of Lebanese registered in embassies abroad was not large while the cost of their voting will be very high.
“I am told that the number of [Lebanese] expatriates registered [at embassies] was not more than 3,500 voters,” Aoun said.
Meanwhile, Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc reiterated former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s proposal, made during last week’s parliamentary sessions, for the formation of a neutral government to supervise the forthcoming elections.
“This practical proposal is also an appropriate opportunity to defuse tension in the country,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting.
Referring to March 8 MPs’ defense of the Cabinet during the parliamentary sessions, the bloc accused Hezbollah MPs of defending “the government’s scandals in the electricity and telecommunications sectors and the gasoline scandal.”
Sources close to Mikati said he had turned down an offer from the March 14 opposition to form a technocrat or neutral government to supervise the elections.
Siniora and the Lebanese Forces have reiterated their calls for the formation of a technocrat or neutral government to supervise the elections, saying Mikati’s Cabinet was unable to oversee the polls after it had failed to address the country’s security, economic and administrative problems.
Siniora’s remarks were apparently intended to respond to Mikati, who declared last week that his government would stay in office to supervise next year’s elections.
Former Minister Wiam Wahhab, a March 8 politician, warned that Lebanon would descend into a civil war in the absence of an election law to ensure the best representation. He voiced support for a law based on proportional representation.
“The main topic discussed was an election law. We hope to go for a law that will preserve the rights of all the Lebanese, and not only of the politicians,” Wahhab told reporters after meeting Aoun.
“We are pondering an election law based on proportional representation with a large district. Speaker Berri’s proposal is excellent, especially the proposal to establish a senate,” he said.© Copyright The Daily Star 2012.
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