March 8 Awaiting LF, Mustaqbal's Replies on Hybrid Draft, Berri Says Won't Call for Parliament Session without Consensus

Speaker Nabih Berri adjourned the meeting of the parliamentary electoral subcommittee to 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, awaiting the feedback of the Lebanese Forces and al-Mustaqbal bloc regarding the remarks raised by the March 8 camp over the hybrid electoral law.

Berri stressed after the afternoon meeting that he does not favor the extension of the parliament's term, “not even for one single day.”

"Extension after May 31 requires an extraordinary parliamentary session,” he noted.

MTV reported that Berri told Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam that he would have to form a “broad cabinet that gathers everyone if elections were postponed.”

The speaker also announced that he will not call for a plenary parliamentary session if no consensus over an electoral law was reached.

"Either we agree on an electoral law or we agree on extension, or else we'll definitely go to elections under the 1960 law,” he said during Friday afternoon's discussions.

“I have always said I will go with consensus,” he pointed out.

On Thursday, the Speaker scheduled a parliamentary session for Saturday, which is set to be decisive on whether to extend the parliament's tenure or hold the polls.

MTV explained adjourning the parliamentary subcommittee's session, saying that the lawmakers of the March 8 coalition are waiting for answers from LF MP George Adwan and al-Mustaqbal MP Ahmed Fatfat on the draft under discussion.

Berri said the draft is “not based on any unified standards.”

The same source added, however, that March 8's most important remarks are related to the “districts of Beirut and the need to follow the same standards in all electorates.”

Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil told reporters after leaving the parliamentary subcommittee's meeting: “Everyone is seeking a consensual formula over the hybrid law and no one has discussed the option or idea of extension until now.”

The parliament's electoral subcommittee resumed talks at 6:00 p.m. to discuss the hybrid proposals.

Speaking after the meeting, Mustaqbal bloc MP Ahmed Fatfat said: "We categorically reject the 1960 law and reject that elections be held under it and we believe that only the hybrid law can pull the country out of the current dilemma."

"We will carry on with defending the hybrid law as a long-term law that paves the ground for national ties and proper representation and we don't mind discussing any amendments," he added.

He stressed that Mustaqbal will only accept the extension of parliament's term "if it is a technical extension for a very short period that does not exceed five months."

Fatfat noted that the Phalange Party "did not raise the issue of dividing Beirut, but rather the South and the North, and we agreed to that but we received a strict answer that the South will not be divided."

"Speaker Berri has pledged that political balance will always be preserved and we consider this an achievement," added Fatfat.

He stressed that Mustaqbal and the Lebanese Forces are "in continuous and full contact with the Phalange Party," adding that "we consider ourselves to be one team."

For his part, LF bloc MP George Adwan said he urged Berri to "hold a session for endorsing consensus."

"We cannot allow a return to the war era by extending parliament's mandate and we cannot return to the 1960 law," said MP Sami Gemayel in the name of the Phalange Party after the meeting.

"Everyone is exerting efforts to reach the desired solution," Gemayel added.

"We said in the meeting that we cannot have a law that contains a selective approach and we cannot consider that certain electorates cannot be modified because such an approach cannot lead to an electoral law," he said.

Gemayel underlined that no party must take their own interests into consideration while seeking an electoral law, "but must rather follow a unified standard that applies to everyone regardless of the final result."

"We have to put objective standards instead of deciding who will win in advance or deciding who will the 128 MPs be," Gemayel noted, adding that "everyone must show positivity in order to achieve proper representation for everyone."

He called for holding a plenary session and putting all laws to a vote.

Meanwhile, Loyalty to Resistance bloc MP Ali Fayyad said: "We would have prefered if Berri's formula was discussed further."

"The hybrid law is the most bizarre law I have ever witnessed, it lacks consistency and it is extremely selective. MPs would be elected according to the winner-takes-all system in places where March 14 is strong and according to proportional representation in electorates where March 14 is weak," Fayyad charged.

"We gave the proposal a chance despite all the aforementioned remarks and we tried to introduce some essential amendments, but only a few amendments were accepted and the largest part of amendments has not been approved until the moment," he added.

He explained that Sidon, Bsharri and Batroun were excluded from the proportional representation system in the proposal of Mustaqbal and the LF.

"We suggested that one of the two MPs be elected under proportional representation but we have not reached a result. However, we will not spare any effort aimed at moving forward and we hope there will be a consensual proposal for all the Lebanese," Fayyad added.

"We realize the gravity of the situation and we urge everyone to rise above any sensitivities that might impede reaching an agreement. We will maintain our contacts in a bid to reach consensus and we're in a state of permanent communication with our allies," the lawmaker said.

He called for avoiding political vacuum and holding elections on time "or as soon as possible."

Fayyad stressed that the amendments suggested by Hizbullah and the FPM are based on scientific and objective standards.

For his part, Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun slammed the hybrid law as "based on inconsistent standards and political ends that are obvious in many of its points."

"We're trying to avoid two bad options: extension and the 1960 law, that's why we're trying to start from a bad law that does not meet our aspirations in order to achieve amendments that can improve Christian representation," Aoun added.

"We cannot divide Mount Lebanon in an absurd manner for the sake of the special status of the Druze which we respect, but this role must not be at the expense of Christians," he noted.

"Is it acceptable to cancel the elections for the sake of certain figures?" Aoun asked rhetorically.

He revealed that Berri will raise his own hybrid proposal for discussion again, noting that the distribution of seats and the discussion of Berri's proposal might lead to an agreement.

"This is the only solution in order to avoid the 1960 law or extension," Aoun stressed.

Tashnag Party's MP Hagop Pakradonian said: "We were positive in the discussions and the 1960 law is behind us now and there is consensus on the hybrid law from the angle of proper Christian representation."

"We cannot accept a second Doha Agreement and we are not the weak link," Pakradonian said, adding that "the Armenian seats in Metn, Beirut and the Bekaa are not negotiable and they belong to their owners and to the Armenian parties."

"Non-Armenian parties cannot swap seats at our expense and I call on our allies and others to understand this point," he said.

But Armenian MP Serge Torsarkissian said: "Where is 'constructive ambiguity' in adding a district to Ashrafiyeh with the aim of securing the win of March 8?"

"We were also surprised when they said that without dividing Ashrafiyeh they would not agree to any solution," Torsarkissian added.

"Speaker Berri's proposal does not contain any standards, that's why we urge our colleagues to be realistic so that we can reach a result," he went on to say.

Berri postponed a parliamentary session on May 15 that was dedicated to discuss the Orthodox Gathering's draft electoral law, for lack of quorum, after Al-Mustaqbal and the LF struck a last-minute deal on the hybrid proposal which was also backed by Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat's National Struggle Front and March 14's independent Christian MPs.

The Orthodox draft that considers Lebanon a single district and stipulates that each sect elects its own MPs under on a proportional representation system, is strongly backed by Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement.

Meanwhile, the proposal of the March 14 alliance, excluding the Phalange party, calls for 54 MPs to be elected under the winner-takes-all system and 46 percent via the proportional representation system.

The country would be divided into six governorates.

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