House Speaker Nabih Berri warned lawmakers Monday against failing to agree on a new electoral law as joint parliamentary committees began their discussions on what voting system to govern the upcoming elections.
The Orthodox Gathering proposal, which the president and Future Movement reiterated their rejection to, was the first item of discussion for lawmakers despite objections by March 14 MPs to do so.
“If we do not agree with one another, Lebanon will face great danger,” Berri told lawmakers at the opening of the session which will discuss an electoral law for the June parliamentary polls after a parliamentary subcommittee failed to reach consensus on a proposal.
I hope they stay away from proposals that go against the Constitution that enhance sectarian divisions in the country
“Allow me, and in the name of everyone, to welcome all brothers who have distanced from each other ... the more distant we are from each other, the worse the consequences will be, influencing not only the Parliament but the whole country,” Berri told politicians, referring to Future Movement’s decision to lift its boycott on participating in parliamentary work involving the government.
Later Monday, Future MP Fouad Siniora described the party’s decision to participate in the committees as an “exceptional” case.
Following Berri’s opening remarks and a presentation by MP Robert Ghanem on the subcommittees report, March 14 MPs Boutros Harb, Marwan Hamade and Samir Jisr requested that Berri give the hybrid proposal precedence in the joint committees’ discussions.
The request by the lawmakers, who argued the Orthodox Gathering contravened the Constitution, was declined, according to a parliamentary source in the opposition.
Berri, according to the source, said the Orthodox Gathering draft would be given priority given that it was the first law to be referred to the joint committees.
Siniora, speaking to reporters, warned against the Orthodox Gathering, which projects Lebanon as a single electoral district wherein each sect elects its own MPs under a system of proportional representation, saying “it will sooner or later lead to dividing Lebanon into sectarian groups.”
While gaining the support of March 8 and March 14 Christian political parties, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, the proposal is strongly opposed by the Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, the country’s prime minister and president, and a number of Christian lawmakers.
Siniora recalled that the speaker had described the hybrid law formula put forward by the Future Movement during the subcommittee meetings as “a positive step forward.”
He also said the joint committee would discuss other proposals other than the Orthodox Gathering law.
“There are serious attempts and there is a possibility to reach common ground among rival groups during talks both inside and outside the Parliament,” he said.
Free Patriotic Movement MP Ibrahim Kanaan slammed Siniora’s remarks, accusing the Future Movement of trying to deprive Christians of their right to fair representation in the elections.
“We all welcomed the presence of the Future Movement in the session, the Parliament is for all of us, but their concerns over the Orthodox Gathering proposal demonstrate that they do not want to achieve fair representation in Lebanon,” he said.
Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman reiterated his objection to the Orthodox Gathering.
“I also hope they [MPs] stay away from proposals that go against the Constitution that enhance sectarian divisions in the country,” said Sleiman, according to a statement from his office, in an apparent reference to the divisive voting system.
He also expressed the need to hold the elections, due to be held on June 9, on time.
“I hope the joint parliamentary committees take into consideration the national interests and the certainty of holding elections on time in respect to the rotation of power,” said Sleiman, according to a statement from his office.
Separately, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said despite his personal objection to the current law, his Cabinet needed to prepare for the elections based on the 1960 law.
“I, as a politician, am against the current law, which is the 1960 law, because I think it is the root of all the crises in Lebanon but I am part of a Cabinet whose term ends on June 30, 2013, and the law says that the elections should be held based on the electoral law that is in effect,” Mikati told reporters at the Grand Serail.
The 1960 law is a qada-based, winner-takes-all system that was used in the previous elections. Most parties in the country oppose its use in the 2013 elections.
“There are constitutional deadlines and we will carry out our duty and we should separate between the work of the government and constitutional obligations and political opinions,” Mikati said.
Sleiman and Mikati’s comments come a day after Interior Minister Marwan Charbel warned that time is running out for lawmakers to agree on a new electoral proposal.
Berri, in comments to As-Safir newspaper Monday, said that the parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year could still be held on time.
“There is still an opportunity for elections to be held on time,” Berri told the daily.