Lebanon officials scramble to agree on vote law

Officials working to endorse a new vote law to replace the contested 1960 majoritarian system before May elections

Image used for illustrative purpose. A Lebanese woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the country's municipal elections in Beirut May 9, 2010.

Image used for illustrative purpose. A Lebanese woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the country's municipal elections in Beirut May 9, 2010.

REUTERS/ Cynthia Karam

11 February 2017

BEIRUT: Government officials scrambled Friday to reach agreement on a new vote law before the end of February, amid enduring differences between the rival factions over what system to adopt to govern the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said his government was working to endorse a new vote law to replace the contested 1960 majoritarian system ahead of the deadline for elections slated for May.

Asked if time was running out for the rival factions to agree on a new electoral law ahead of the Feb. 21 deadline, Hariri said: “Time is not running out and we are working to approve a new [vote] law.”

Hariri spoke after meeting with Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea to offer condolences over the death of his mother, Marie Habib Geagea, who died Monday.

Meanwhile, the Future Movement poured cold waters on a revived proposal by former Prime Minister Najib Mikati for an electoral law based on proportional representation with Lebanon divided into 13 districts.

“[Former] Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s [electoral] plan is out of the question for the Future Movement because it is based on full proportionality,” Future MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star.

Houri said the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc stood firm on its support for a hybrid vote law reached with the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, which calls for 68 of Parliament’s 128 members to be elected on the basis of the majoritarian system and the remaining 60 under a proportional formula.

This hybrid vote proposal was essentially made to counter another hybrid plan suggested by Speaker Nabih Berri’s bloc, which calls for half of Parliament’s members to be elected under a proportional system and the other half under a winner-take-all formula.

Asked if he was optimistic that political rivals would be able to reach a deal on a new voting system before the end of February as promised by President Michel Aoun and Hariri during this week’s Cabinet session, Houri said: “Inshallah.”

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk Wednesday quoted Aoun and Hariri as telling ministers during the Cabinet session that rival political parties would agree on a new voting system before the end of the month.

Although a four-party committee struggling to agree on a new voting system has not met over the past few days after its hybrid vote proposal drew fire from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, the Kataeb Party and the Marada Movement, Houri said behind-the-scene contacts and meetings between rival factions were being held with the aim of reaching a formula to replace the 1960 system used in the last elections in 2009.

The committee’s hybrid vote proposal, floated by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, calls for electing a part of parliamentary seats under a majoritarian system and another part under a proportional vote law. The committee also includes Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from the Amal Movement, Nader Hariri, chief of Hariri’s staff, and Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad.

Minister of State for Presidency Affairs Pierre Raffoul said he expected a new electoral law to see the light of the day within one or two weeks. “Consensus in the country will reflect positively on everyone,” Raffoul from the FPM said after meeting in Tripoli with the governor of the north Ramzi Nahra.

Aoun, whose FPM strongly supports a proportional vote law, said he was seeking to enable minorities to be represented in Parliament through a new electoral system.

“What we are proposing does not depart from the Taif Accord as some accuse us. The National Accord Document [Taif Accord] provides for the adoption of an electoral law that respects the rules of coexistence and ensures true and effective representation for various segments of the Lebanese people,” Aoun said during a meeting with a delegation from the Lebanese Democratic Party led by its leader, Minister for the Displaced Talal Arslan, at Baabda Palace.He said a fair electoral law must also include the minority within each sect, which has the right to be represented in Parliament.

Apparently seeking to allay fears voiced by Jumblatt and members of his bloc over the Druze sect’s representation under a proportional vote law, Aoun said: “We say it loudly that no one wants to eliminate anyone. Our goal is not in this direction. Should we lose one of our current political and social components, we would be eliminating the Lebanese character of our existence.”

Jumblatt has stepped up his rejection of a proportional vote law by calling Sunday for the adoption of an amended version of the 1960 system, or the creation of a senate and abolition of political confessionalism as stipulated by the 1989 Taif Accord.

For his part, Arslan rejected the argument that a proportional vote law would diminish Druze representation in Parliament. He also opposed a return to the 1960 law, saying it has become outdated.

“The 1960 [electoral] law only grants Druze two lawmakers without any alliances, while proportional representation secures eight lawmakers without alliances,” Arslan told reporters after the meeting with Aoun.

“The Lebanese, as political powers, are in agreement that the 1960 law is essentially rejected. I don’t want to go into details into what a [vote] law would be adopted. But I want to say that proportionality achieves justice and true representation,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Mikati reiterated his support for a proportional electoral system based on large constituencies, proposed by his government in 2012. He stressed that proportional representation was the best voting formula for the Lebanese people.

“A proportional vote law based on large constituencies allows everyone to take part in the elections without any restrictions and prevents a monopoly [of seats],” Mikati told a news conference at his office in Beirut. “Our project calls for dividing Lebanon into 13 electoral districts.”

He stressed that an electoral law is the key to restructuring state authority and motivating the youth to engage in the process of change and reforms. “In Lebanon, proportionality is the best for the Lebanese society. A proportional system will free the so-called minorities from the influence of political, sectarian and financial majorities and also restrict the number of lost or neglected votes,” Mikati said. “A proportional system reflects genuine democracy for any society.”

© Copyright The Daily Star 2017.

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