Maronite leaders approve Orthodox draft electoral law

The Daily Star

BKIRKI/BEIRUT: Maronite leaders agreed Friday to support the Orthodox Gathering’s draft electoral law, and designated a committee to discuss the proposed law with Lebanese officials.

A gathering of the leaders “agreed to designate [its] committee to begin negotiations with all parties over the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal, which the attendees consider a valid formula to achieve fair and effective representation” for Christians, a statement released after Maronite leaders met said.

It added that the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal enforces equality between Muslims and Christians.

The gist of the electoral law proposal by the Orthodox Gathering, which has garnered widespread criticism, is that each sect elects its own lawmakers to ensure a fairer representation.

Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarchate, launched a series of meetings this year aimed at bridging the gap between rival Maronite leaders. One of the objectives of the meetings was to formulate an electoral law for the upcoming 2013 parliamentary elections that would better represent Christians.

“The electoral law aims at reaching elections that reflect popular will and true representation between all components of society and especially for the principle of equality,” the statement added.

Headed by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, the meeting Friday gathered rival politicians such as Kataeb leader Amine Gemayel, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun and Marada Movement boss Sleiman Franjieh.

The committee, which was originally tasked to design an electoral law, includes MPs from different Christian parties including Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel and FPM MP Alain Aoun.

The statement also said that failure to achieve equal representation threatens stability in Lebanon.

The Orthodox Gathering, which includes businessmen, politicians and Greek Orthodox clerics, was formed earlier this year in protest at what they say is the marginalization of the Greek Orthodox sect in Lebanon.

“We haven’t yet come out with a final version on the electoral law,” Lebanese Forces MP Strida Geagea said at end of the meeting in Bkirki, seat of the Maronite church Friday.

“There are common points,” Geagea acknowledged, adding that the Lebanese Forces supports a proposal suggested by the Orthodox sect.

Kataeb MP Nadim Gemayel echoed Geagea’s statements, saying participants at the meeting, which lasted three hours, did not “reach a comprehensive agreement on the elections law.”

“Whatever the new law, it is useless given the presence of weapons that could put pressure on citizens,” Gemayel said, referring to the weapons of Hezbollah which the party insists are essential in order to defend against Israeli aggression.

“We cannot finalize the election law when arms are pointed to people’s heads,” he said, stressing that the issue of weapons should be settled before any decision is taken on the elections law.

There had been indications that participants at the meeting would discuss non-state arms and the army’s authority over all Lebanese territory.