Berri hopes talks on vote law end boycott

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Speaker Nabih Berri voiced hope Wednesday that the resumption of a parliamentary subcommittee’s talks on a new electoral law early next year would help ease the March 14 boycott of the government and all Cabinet-related meetings in Parliament.

Elsewhere, the opposition March 14 parties responded to President Michel Sleiman’s call for National Dialogue by renewing their demand for the government’s resignation and the formation of a neutral salvation Cabinet, a stance that is unlikely to help resume the all-party talks scheduled for Jan. 7.

Berri Wednesday set Jan. 8 as a date for the parliamentary subcommittee to meet in Parliament to resume discussions on a new electoral law.

His decision came two days after the March 14 coalition agreed to resume talks with its March 8 rivals on a new electoral law after accepting the speaker’s proposal for the subcommittee’s March 14 members, facing security threats, to stay at a hotel near Parliament and under Army protection until the body finishes its work.

Speaking during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his residence in Ain al-Tineh, Berri spoke of “a positive atmosphere” created by the resumption of the parliamentary subcommittee’s meetings early next year.

Berri “hoped that the subcommittee’s work will open a hole in the [March 14] boycott we are witnessing today,” the March 8 MPs quoted the speaker as saying.

Berri, according to the MPs, said he attached hopes to the subcommittee’s work, stressing the need to increase meetings whereby it can meet twice or three times per day to finalize its work.

Formed in early October, the subcommittee, which includes MPs from the March 8 and March 14 parties, was tasked with studying the type of the electoral system and the distribution of electoral districts in the absence of Cabinet members or representatives.

The speaker underlined the importance of “searching for an arena of understanding among the Lebanese in order to ward off the dangers looming on the horizon and confront the forthcoming developments.”

“We have in the past faced through meeting together and cooperation a lot of negative developments and dangers. We can today face all difficult matters through this spirit of understanding and communications among all [the parties],” Berri told the MPs.

Work on a new election law was halted in October after opposition lawmakers boycotted legislative subcommittees, including the one looking into several electoral proposals to replace the 1960 law based on the qada and a winner-takes-all system.

Following the Oct. 19 assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, who headed the police’s Information Branch, the March 14 coalition has called for the government’s resignation and the formation of “a neutral salvation Cabinet” to oversee the 2013 elections. The coalition has boycotted the government and all Cabinet-related meetings in Parliament as well as National Dialogue sessions as part of its tactics to force the government to resign.

March 14 MPs have agreed to resume discussions after accepting Berri’s proposal to temporarily stay in a hotel within Parliament’s security perimeter. Speaking to reporters after a meeting of March 14 lawmakers at the house of Batroun MP Butros Harb in Hazmieh Monday, Future bloc MP Samir Jisr said the participants agreed to give the subcommittee one week to finish its work.

Batroun Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra, who attended the meeting, said the March 14 lawmakers agreed to Berri’s proposal to stay at Etoile Hotel, which lies within Parliament’s security perimeter.

“The subcommittee does not need more than one week to finish its work. The MPs will discuss the parties’ conflicting stances on the type of the electoral system and the size of electoral districts,” Zahra told The Daily Star.

“Either way, whether the subcommittee reaches an agreement or not on the electoral system and the size of districts, it will present its report to Parliament, which will have the final say on this matter,” he said.

Zahra reiterated the March 14 demand for the government’s resignation and the formation of a neutral salvation Cabinet to supervise the 2013 polls.

Meanwhile, Sleiman urged the rival political factions to attend a new National Dialogue session scheduled on Jan. 7, while stressing that the elections, scheduled in June next year, should be held on time.

“Dialogue is a national committee that helps maintain stability in Lebanon. If we have a stance against the government, we must come to Dialogue in any case,” Sleiman told reporters following a closed meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki Tuesday to congratulate him on Christmas.

“I am waiting, I wish and call on all [parties] to return to their conscience and not to let down the Lebanese people … to meet and discuss all matters. I hope that all Dialogue parties will come on Jan. 7. If they don’t come, let them offer me alternatives,” he added.

Sleiman said that previous Dialogue sessions that led to the “Baabda Declaration” which called for keeping Lebanon away from regional conflicts.

He added that the elections must be held on time and voiced support for the government’s draft electoral law based on a proportional representation system.

“The Constitution and international charters support holding the elections. This is taken for granted. I prefer the proportional representation draft law submitted by the government. Power rotation, within any law, would be better than not holding the elections,” Sleiman added.

Responding to Sleiman’s call for National Dialogue, Future bloc MP Nuhad Mashnouq told MTV Wednesday night: “We will not participate in any Dialogue session before the government’s resignation and the formation of a Cabinet capable of running the affairs of the country and the people, not to be involved [in assassinations] and not to turn a blind eye to the assassinations that have happened since the first month of 2012 until today.”

March 14 MP Marwan Hamadeh also responded to Sleiman’s call for an alternative to Dialogue. “The alternative is not to drop Dialogue but to resume it through the formation of a neutral salvation Cabinet that can pull the country out of the political, economic and security crisis and return to the Baabda Declaration,” Hamadeh told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

 

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