Rome talks revive Berri’s electoral law

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Speaker Nabih Berri, left, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Cardinal Beshara Rai meet in Rome on Sunday March 17, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati and Nohra)

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai agreed Monday to revive Berri’s hybrid electoral law, which Rai will attempt to persuade the Christian parties to support.

The Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party previously opposed Berri’s hybrid proposal, and it remains unclear whether they have changed their stance.

The agreement was made during a meeting in Rome between the three and Environment Minister Nazem Khoury, who represented President Michel Sleiman. The four had held a similar meeting the day before.

Sources close to Bkirki said the leaders also agreed that Rai would try to convince the Christian parties to support Berri’s proposed law that would allow the election of 64 MPs under a proportional representation system and the other 64 under a winner-takes-all setup.

The sources said Berri requested that Rai explain to Maronite leaders how difficult it would be to convince Parliament to endorse the Orthodox law in view of sectarian divisions.

The leaders also discussed the issue of holding a spiritual summit. They agreed that it would be hard for the divided Dar al-Fatwa to convene such a summit. In principle, the next summit should be held in Dar al-Fatwa, because the previous one was held in Bkirki.

During a discussion of the Cabinet’s performance, Rai demanded that the government act swiftly on issues pertaining to the people’s livelihood.

Berri supported Rai and asked Mikati to refer the long-awaited public sector salary raise to Parliament.

For his part, Mikati said the ongoing disputes between rival parties were to blame for the Cabinet’s inefficiencies.

A source close to Berri confirmed to The Daily Star that the speaker, Sleiman and Mikati had agreed on a draft electoral law.

“It seems President Sleiman, Speaker Berri and Prime Minister Mikati have agreed on a draft electoral law during the meetings in Rome, since minister Khoury, who is close to Sleiman, attended the meetings [to represent him],” the source said.

“They tasked the patriarch with convincing the Christian sects [to endorse it]; there are signs that consensus is starting to emerge, let’s wait and see.”

The source said he did not have information about the details of the law.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting in Rome, Mikati said a plan for elections had been reached, but refused to elaborate: “A comprehensive, two-page plan over the parliamentary elections was reached during the meeting,” he said. He added that several draft laws were discussed. “The issue now is in the hands of his eminence [Rai], he will contact the parties represented in Parliament, particularly Christian groups, in order to reach agreement on a new electoral law to provide fair representation for all Lebanese,” he said.

Asked whether elections would be postponed, Mikati said: “I stress the elections will be held under the [chosen] law.”

Mikati, Rai and Berri are in Rome to attend the inauguration of Pope Francis which is to take place Tuesday.

Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said that no one had informed his group about the outcome of the two meetings in Rome.

“We heard about it through media outlets. We heard Prime Minister Mikati saying that the patriarch will inform the Christian parties about the draft electoral law. But we do not know who will inform the other Lebanese groups,” Houri said.

Also Monday, President Michel Sleiman, who is touring West African states, reiterated his opposition to the Orthodox proposal, vowing that he would challenge it before the Constitutional Council if it were adopted.

“I said I will challenge the Orthodox proposal and I will not back down on my decision. This is a firm stance and I will challenge it a million times when it is referred to me to sign,” Sleiman posted on Twitter.

The president also voiced his opposition to delaying elections and said there was still time to reach consensus over a new voting system.

“I do not accept talks on postponing elections and we cannot think of that, as there is still enough time to pass a new law,” Sleiman said.

The Daily Star - Lebanon