Lebanon – Orthodox Vote Law Approved by Joint Committees despite Objection of Several Blocs

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Hopes for consensus between rival lawmakers on an electoral law were shattered on Tuesday after lawmakers from several blocs withdrew from the meeting of the joint parliamentary committees in protest at the adoption of the so-called Orthodox Gathering proposal.

“We proposed today a 48-hour postponement of discussions” on article 2 of the proposal “to pave way for the success of deliberations held outside the parliament,” al-Mustaqbal MP Ahmed Fatfat told reporters after pulling out of the meeting.

But the request did not meet a positive response, he said.

The article calls for dividing Lebanon into a single district and allows each sect to vote for its own lawmakers under a proportional representation system.

Fatfat accused the supporters of the Orthodox proposal of seeking to postpone the elections after Interior Minister Marwan Charbel confirmed that he needed more time to prepare for the polls if the Orthodox draft-law was approved.

“Moderation will be executed” if MPs go ahead with its adoption, Fatfat said, adding “our hands remain extended to reach consensus” on an other electoral draft-law.

The same stance was made by independent Christian opposition lawmakers and the National Struggle Front of MP Walid Jumblat

“We believe that the Orthodox proposal would endanger the Christians. That’s why we can’t approve it,” independent MP Butros Harb told reporters. “Dividing people into sects targets coexistence.”

“The country can’t be ruled without the consensus of all parties,” MP Akram Shehayyeb from the National Struggle Front said.

He said that the Orthodox proposal would lead to the consolidation of political sectarianism rather than abolishing it.

During Monday’s session chaired by Speaker Nabih Berri, the rival MPs from the March 8 majority coalition and the March 14 opposition alliance voted for an article in the Orthodox proposal calling for the number of parliament members to be increased from 128 to 134.

However, sources close to al-Mustaqbal bloc chief Fouad Saniora told As Safir daily that their consent to the amendment of the article is not linked to the rest of the proposal’s articles.

Intense consultations away from the media spotlight were held with Berri ahead of Tuesday’s meeting to resolve the differences between the rival blocs.

But despite efforts to postpone the discussion on article 2 and the withdrawal of several MPs, the joint committees approved the Orthodox proposal.

The suggestion to postpone the discussions of the article drew the reservations of 31 MPs, including lawmakers from the Change and Reform bloc of Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and their rivals from the opposition Lebanese Forces.

Twenty four lawmakers, including the opposition’s Phalange, called however for 48 hours to pave way for consensus.

The four major Christian parties – the FPM, LF, Phalange and Marada – had announced their support to the Orthodox proposal despite its rejection by President Michel Suleiman, Premier Najib Miqati, Jumblat, al-Mustaqbal and several other independent Christian opposition MPs.

LF MP George Adwan said the Orthodox draft-law “was adopted but efforts to reach consensus will continue. “

“The search for consensus among the Lebanese will not end,” he stressed.

Phalange MP Sami Gemayel echoed a similar view, saying “the door for consensus remains open.”

“We will continue to hold contacts with everyone to guarantee the best representation (for all the Lebanese) and avoid more tension in the country,” he said.

“We will continue to search for an alternative … but everyone should know that any law that brings us back to the 1960 law is rejected,” Gemayel stressed.

But Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun considered the adoption of the Orthodox proposal as a victory despite what he said were “last minute attempts to obstruct agreement.”

“We made a major step towards holding the polls based on a new law,” he told reporters.

Aoun denied that the proposal contradicts the constitution and coexistence. “Democratic path is more powerful than the attempts to topple it,” he stressed.

After its approval by the joint committees, there is one last step of its approval by the parliament.

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