BEIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday urged rival political parties to seek consensus over a new parliamentary electoral system, in an apparent attempt to dissuade President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement from seeking a vote on the issue in the Cabinet.
Nasrallah’s remarks follow reports that a parliamentary electoral system proposed by FPM President Gebran Bassil could be put to the vote during the upcoming Cabinet session despite opposition from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt.
“The electoral law is sensitive issue…it is a matter of life and death for many [parties],” Nasrallah said. “We have called for consensus democracy, if this democracy doesn’t apply to the electoral law, what does it apply to? We want to negotiate an election law to reach a settlement and we will reach one," he added.
Nasrallah, however, warned that the failure to reach a compromise solution could plunge Lebanon into the abyss.
Stalled negotiations over a new electoral law have raised concerns of a vacuum in the legislative branch if no common ground is reached before the expiry of Parliament’s term on June 20.
Berri had called for a general assembly meeting on May 15 to renew the legislature’s term for a third consecutive time. However, the legislative session is expected to fall short of the quorum after Prime Minister Saad Hariri reportedly informed Berri that his parliamentary bloc will boycott the meeting in solidarity with the FPM and Aoun who staunchly opposes the extension of Parliament’s mandate.
Aoun insists that the extension of Parliament’s term should be coupled with the ratification of a new parliamentary electoral system and should be limited to only a few months to prepare for polls based on a new law.
The latest round of negotiations over the adoption of a two-round parliamentary electoral system put forward by Bassil have hit a dead end after the proposal was rejected by Berri and Jumblatt.
Recent reports have, however, hinted at the possibility of putting the proposal to the vote in the upcoming Cabinet session, paving the way for its referral to parliament for ratification.
According to Bassil’s proposal, the first round is based on a plurality voting system in 26 districts, which represent the electoral constituencies under the current parliamentary election law, where Christian and Muslim voters will only cast ballots to candidates from the same religion. The top two candidates for each seat will be eligible to participate in the second round, which will take place based on a proportional representation system in ten electoral constituencies.
Berri demands that all candidates who secure at least 10 percent of the votes in each district qualify for the second round among other amendments while Jumblatt has expressed outright opposition to Bassil’s proposal. The makeup of electoral constituencies in the second round of voting is another contentious issue.
Bassil says his proposal guarantees fair Christian representation in Parliament, accusing his political rivals of seeking to undermine Christian-Muslim parity under Lebanon’s confessional power sharing system.
The Lebanese Forces, the FPM’s political ally and the country’s second largest Christian party, has accused Hezbollah of obstructing an agreement over a new law that bolsters Christian representation in Parliament.
Nasrallah refuted such accusations and denied that Hezbollah, an ally of Aoun, is seeking to prevent the LF and FPM from securing veto power in Parliament."These are empty accusations," he said.
Nasrallah reiterated his party’s support for the adoption of a full proportional law, but added that Hezbollah "remains open to other proposals."
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