Berri wants Christian unity on electoral law

The Daily Star

BEIRUT: If Christian parties adopt the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral proposal Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri will most likely accept it, Tyre MP Ali Khreis said Thursday. In an interview with the Voice of Lebanon radio station, Khreis, a member of Berri’s parliamentary bloc, said that the speaker was very much concerned that a new election law should gain Christian unanimity.

“If the Christians agreed to the Orthodox [Gathering’s] proposal, I think he [Berri] will go with it without hesitation,” Khreis added.

Berri had expressed a similar view in remarks published by As-Safir newspaper Thursday.

“Let March 14 Christians obtain their allies’ support for the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal – we will later consider it,” Berri was quoted as saying.

He added that the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral proposal contained some positive aspects, such as the adoption of proportionality and making Lebanon a single electoral district.

“But its problem lies in calling for each sect to elect its own MPs,” he said.

Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra renewed his party’s call for small electoral districts, saying that such a proposal would ensure the best Christian representation in next year’s parliamentary elections.

Apparently responding to Berri’s readiness to consider the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral proposal, which had been rejected by Muslim parties on both sides of the political divide, Zahra told the Free Lebanon radio station: “Speaker Nabih Berri, known for his ability to explore solutions, surprised us with this logic yesterday.

“Everyone knows that the Lebanese Forces had insisted on the meeting in Bkirki in order to propose a new election law. Muslim parties did not agree to the Orthodox proposal. That’s why they resorted to other proposals, including small districts,” he added.

Zahra accused Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun of seeking to control Lebanon through a new law.
“Unfortunately, Aoun wants an election law in order to secure a clear majority for the March 8 parties to help them control the country,” he said.

Berri’s remarks came as March 14 parties and Aoun traded barbs Tuesday over who backtracked on an agreement reached by the Bkirki Committee on a new election law.

The committee was tasked by the Maronite Church with drafting a law to best guarantee Christian representation.
Aoun said that March 14 Christian parties did not commit to an agreement reached by Christian parties on a law for the 2013 parliamentary elections.

Batroun March 14 MP Boutros Harb accused the FPM of turning against the agreement that was brokered in Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Church.

Aoun said the two draft laws approved by the Bkirki committee did not include the March 14 proposal to divide Lebanon into 61 electoral districts with a winner-takes-all system.

He said the two draft laws that were endorsed by the committee were: The Orthodox Gathering’s proposal by which each sect elects its own MPs, and another proposal that would divide Lebanon into 15 electoral districts. Both proposals are based on proportional representation.

Two MPs from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc forwarded a draft election law to Parliament earlier this month, according to which every sect elects its own MPs in a system that also incorporates proportional representation.

The proposal is similar to a draft law prepared by the Orthodox Gathering that was rejected by predominantly Muslim parties.

Harb said that Christian parties had agreed to push for a proposal that adopts small districts.

Baabda MP Alan Aoun from Aoun’s bloc accused March 14 Christian parties of backtracking on an agreement on medium districts and proportionality.

In an interview to be published Friday in the French weekly Magazine, Aoun dismissed former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s agreement to small electoral districts as “a maneuver.”

The row over a new election law came as the Cabinet approved a draft law that would divide the country into 13 medium-sized districts with MPs chosen by proportional representation.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and March 14 have rejected the government’s electoral draft law, saying it was designed to serve the interests of March 8 parties. Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has also rejected the government’s draft law, favoring a system of small districts.