Parliament Passes New Electoral Law as Some MPs Voice Objections

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The parliament on Friday approved a new electoral law based on proportional representation and 15 districts, amid objections by some MPs and a protest by civil society groups near the legislature's building.

The MPs of the Kataeb Party, independent MP Butros Harb and MP Assem Qansou of the Baath Party voiced objections against the law.

"Let's be realistic. We were heading to an existential crisis and this law is the best we can do,” Speaker Nabih Berri said at the beginning of the session.

Berri also called on the government to open an extraordinary legislative session as soon as possible so that the legislature can “look into legislative issues and regain people's confidence.”

During the session, MP Sami Gemayel demanded that the draft law be discussed article by article, with Berri noting that no controversial article would be passed without a vote.

“However, this would change should there be a suggestion to pass the law as a single article,” Berri added.

Gemayel asked about “the reasons that led to confining the preferential vote to the administrative district” and not to the bigger electoral district.

“If their goal is Christian representation, then what is the fate of 60,000 Christian voters eliminated by confining the preferred vote to the administrative district?” Gemayel wondered.

LBCI television said Gemayel described the electoral law as the "Batroun law for the sake of Jebran Bassil."

“Why has parliament extended its own term for another year? Is it to give the government more time to bribe the people?” Gemayel added.

MP Butros Harb for his part said the law was "tailored" to fit the interests of certain parties.

He also slammed the ruling political class for failing to approve a women's quota and for "deforming proportional representation."

MP Najib Miqati of Tripoli also slammed the new electoral law as "deformed."

Harb had called for a thorough discussion of the draft law's articles “and not to rush them under the excuse of iftar time.”

“Even if the draft law will be passed as a single article, I will allow discussion and every MP will be given five minutes to speak,” Berri reassured.

The session meanwhile witnessed a walkout by MP Assem Qansou of the Baath Party.

Qansou's walkout followed a discussion with Berri about the failure to turn Lebanon into a single electoral district, with the speaker stressing that “the electoral law cannot but be consensual, or else it would lead to the country's ruin.”

Prime Minister Saad Hariri also walked out of parliament after a verbal clash with Gemayel. He returned after Gemayel finished his statement.

The bill consisted of 68 pages and several MPs were expected to demand amendments and changes related to the so-called preferential vote and the division of electoral districts. Media reports said it will be impossible to introduce any changes during the session "seeing as it will be passed as a single batch."

A number of civil society activists meanwhile rallied outside parliament to denounce the electoral law which, despite being based on proportional representation, fell short of their expectations.

Civil society groups argue that proportional representation should be implemented in fewer and bigger districts in order to be effective.

Videos posted on social networking websites showed security forces severely beating some protesters in the streets around parliament. Other videos showed some activists hurling eggs at cars carrying MPs.

Prior to the session, MP Sethrida Geagea expressed her keenness on “the historic reconciliation with the Free Patriotic Movement.”

“We might be on the same electoral lists in some regions and not in others,” she added. Geagea also expressed her dismay that the new electoral law does not involve any women's quota.

MP Jean Oghassabian, who is also the State Minister for Women's Affairs, noted that “any electoral law passed without a women's quota is an unfair law that harms Lebanon's image and its parliament.”

The government had approved the new electoral law during a Cabinet session Wednesday, ending months of tense discussions and paving the way for the first parliamentary elections in nine years.

The deal comes after a stalemate that has seen the country's parliament extend its term twice since the last elections in 2009.

Under the agreement, the current parliament's term will be extended once again, but this time for just 11 months to prepare for elections under the new rules in May 2018.

The new law replaces the existing winner-takes-all voting system with proportional representation and reduces the number of electoral districts.

Lebanon recognizes 18 official religious sects and its 128 parliamentary seats are divided equally between Muslims and Christians, an arrangement unique in the region.