Mikati raises possibility of electoral law changes

Announcement made after Sfeir meeting

By Majdoline Hatoum

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati insisted parliamentary elections will begin on time this month but added some amendments could still be made to the controversial legal framework for the polls.

Following a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, who has condemned the 2000 electoral law under which the elections will take place for failing to properly represent Lebanon’s Christians, Mikati, said: “We will assess the possibility of reconsidering the electoral law of 2000, perhaps introducing amendments to some electoral districts.”

He added: “Parliament can reconsider this law. Otherwise, as a government we will be forced to hold the elections based on the current law, despite its mistakes.”

In a fresh attempt to find a solution to a row that threatens the smooth running of the elections and has increased sectarian tension in Lebanon, Mikati also met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, one of the 2000 law’s staunchest defenders. 

Mikati refused to discuss the meeting, saying only that consultations on the issue will go on with Berri and other political factions within the current time frame for elections.

The elections are scheduled to begin May 29 and run through June 19. Despite widespread calls from a number of opposition figures for polls to be delayed, the U.S., European Union and UN are demanding that the vote be held on time.

But the electoral law has divided the anti-Syrian opposition, which united Christians and Muslims in rejecting Syrian dominance following the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri last February.

Many politicians have criticized key opposition leader Walid Jumblatt for striking what many in the opposition called “an under-the-table deal” with pro Syrian loyalists to protect his own party’s position at the polls and agreeing to support the electoral law of 2000.

Lebanon’s opposition, whose unity had helped rid the country of Syrian occupation, has become increasingly divided in recent weeks. 

The Christian opposition insists the 2000 electoral law sets voting districts in a way that favors Muslim voters and candidates’ lists. Instead, they have been calling for a law based on smaller districts, which they claim is more representative of the country’s various sects.

Christian opposition MP Nayla Mouawad said: “There is still a chance to change this law, and Berri holds the keys to this change.” But she added the elections should not be postponed.

Sfeir, who has been vocally demanding the adoption of a new electoral law has threatened to boycott the elections if his demands are not met.

Yesterday he stepped up his campaign to oppose the current election law.

He told supporters at his mountain seat of Bkirki north of Beirut: “We want Muslims and Christians to vote together but within small districts, where they can distinguish between candidates they have relationships with, not candidates that are imposed on them.”

Christian opposition figure Gebran Tueini,  who plans to run for a parliamentary seat in Beirut, said the election law was “twisted.”

He added he will abide by the church’s decision on whether to take part in the election or not, but said a boycott, if it happens, “should be comprehensive.”

Former Minister Michel Edde, another member of the Christian opposition, said: “It is better to postpone the elections for a week or two in order to be able to discuss a fair electoral law.”

Former President Amine Gemayel, one of the many Christian politicians who have been visiting Sfeir to show support, accused Syria of trying to sow sectarian differences among the Lebanese who have united against Damascus’ control.

The 2000 law was adopted at the height of Syrian control and was tailored to help pro-Syrian candidates.