UN warns Lebanon could be dragged in to Syrian civil war

Published February 27th, 2013 - 07:11 GMT
The UN has expressed fears that Lebanon could be dragged in the Syrian civil war
The UN has expressed fears that Lebanon could be dragged in the Syrian civil war

The United Nations warned Tuesday that Lebanon could be dragged into the bloody conflict in Syria, as rival Lebanese politicians struggled to agree on a new electoral law for the June 9 elections.

Beirut MP Ammar Houri said his Future Movement has been engaged in talks with the Progressive Socialist Party in an attempt to reach common ground on a hybrid vote system to break the monthslong stalemate over a new electoral law.

“Discussions between the Future Movement and the PSP are ongoing on a hybrid vote formula to break the deadlock over a new electoral law,” Houri told The Daily Star.

Meanwhile, the United Nations expressed renewed concern that Lebanon could be drawn into Syria’s worsening 2-year-old civil war, which the world body said had developed sectarian overtones and been aggravated by foreign fighters and extremist groups.

U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman painted what he called an “appalling picture” of the conflict that began as peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad and turned violent when government forces tried to crush the demonstrations.

The destructive military spiral churns more forcefully each day and threatens to pull its neighbors, most notably and worrisomely Lebanon, into its vortex,” Feltman told the U.N. Security Council during a Middle East briefing.

Houri, a member of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s parliamentary bloc, said his party was also consulting with its March 14 allies, notably the Kataeb Party and the Lebanese Forces, on a hybrid vote law that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system.

He denied reports that the Future hybrid proposal calls for 68 lawmakers to be elected under a winner-takes-all system and the remaining 60 lawmakers to be elected under a proportional representation system.

“Discussions with the PSP have not finished yet to decide on what number of lawmakers to be elected under what system,” Houri said.

He recalled that the Future bloc, through its representative on a parliamentary subcommittee, MP Ahmad Fatfat, presented a proposal calling for 70 percent of lawmakers to be elected under a winner-takes-all system and the rest under a proportional representation system. But the proposal had been rejected by March 8 MPs.

Houri’s remarks came as the March 8 and March 14 parties remained poles apart on a new electoral law to replace the 1960 law, which has been rejected by all officials on both sides of the political spectrum.

Further deepening the political split was the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal, which projects Lebanon as a single electoral district in which each sect elects its own lawmakers through a proportional representation voting system.

As a way of breaking the electoral law impasse, Speaker Nabih Berri has proposed a hybrid vote plan that calls for 64 lawmakers to be elected based on a winner-takes-all system and another 64 to be elected under a proportional representation system.

Although Berri’s proposal had failed to win the support of the opposition March 14 parties, it has encouraged these parties, which favored dividing Lebanon into small districts, to search for a hybrid vote formula similar to the speaker’s. A Future source said the movement was also discussing with the PSP the Cabinet’s draft electoral law and was open to talks on a hybrid vote law, but not the one proposed by Berri.

“We are maintaining contact with different political groups to reach an electoral law that wins the approval of everyone,” the source told The Daily Star.

He said former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the head of the Future bloc, met with Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel Monday as part of consultations with Christian politicians on a new electoral law.

In remarks published by As-Safir Tuesday, PSP leader Walid Jumblatt confirmed that his party and the Future Movement were discussing the Cabinet’s draft law.

Earlier Tuesday, the Future bloc called for holding the June 9 elections on time. It also called for an electoral law that can constitute “a point of convergence” among various factions.

The need for common ground on an electoral law emerged “after the majority of the parties realized that the Elie Ferzli [Orthodox] draft law posed a major problem, threatening the joint coexistence formula among the Lebanese and was opposed by a wide range of various segments of the Lebanese people,” the bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting.

In light of divisions over the Orthodox proposal, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called for a new electoral law that ensures parity between Christians and Muslims in the country’s power sharing.

“They spoke about ... the so-called Orthodox proposal, which gives the rights to Christians and Muslims, but then they said it would have negative repercussions. Therefore, we need to find something similar in order for both [Christians and Muslims to have proper representation],” Rai told reporters at Beirut airport before leaving on an official visit to Russia.

Rai said any new electoral law needed to address what he said was an imbalance of political representation between Muslims and Christians.

“Lebanon is like a bird with two wings, a Christian wing and a Muslim one. But it can’t fly with one wing broken and the other strong. Therefore, we are saying that the situation in Lebanon is not good because these two wings are not equal,” he said.

For his part, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun upheld his support for the Orthodox proposal, vowing not to accept anything short of that.

“We will not accept any law other than the Orthodox Gathering’s law unless there is a better law. Any electoral law whose results are known in advance will not pass,” Aoun told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut. “We have one law: Either the Orthodox law or a single district law,” he said.

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