Berri ties new electoral law to senate formation

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s rival political factions wrapped up the third consecutive day of talks aimed at breaking a nearly two-year-long political deadlock with no signs of a breakthrough.

After failing to find common ground on the election of a president and the ratification of a new electoral law, representatives of the country’s leading parties shifted their attention to the establishment of a senate.

In a move that could further complicate negotiations and delay a political settlement, Speaker Nabih Berri Thursday tied the ratification of a new parliamentary electoral system to the establishment of a new senate.

An official, who participated in National Dialogue, told Annahar that Berri suggested the formation of a committee to simultaneously study both proposals.

The committee would bring together representatives of the country’s major political factions, the official said, noting that Berri’s proposal gained the approval of all factions with the exception of the Kataeb party.

The formation of a senate and the implementation of administrative decentralization, another topic that was on the National Dialogue’s agenda Wednesday, are both key parts of the Taif Accord, which ended Lebanon’s 15-year old civil war.

Under the political reforms section, the Taif Accord calls for the formation of a senate after the abolition of the quota reserved for each sect in parliament. While each sect will be allotted a quota in the senate, the accord is vague when it comes to the prerogatives of the new legislative body.

“With the election of the first Chamber of Deputies on a national, not sectarian, basis, a senate shall be formed and all the spiritual families shall be represented in it. The senate powers shall be confined to crucial issues,” reads the article pertaining to the senate formation.

As he left Berri’s residence, Kataeb party leader Sami Gemayel warned of an attempt to delay the ratification of a new electoral law.

“If we are seeking the implementation of the Taif Accord, we should first impose the sovereignty of the state across Lebanese territories by collecting all weapons,” Gemayel said in a veiled reference to Hezbollah’s arsenal.

“Adjourning talks over the ratification of a new electoral law till after the formation of a senate deals a blow to efforts to adopt a new law and is another extension of parliament’s term,” he added.

The government has already adjourned parliamentary elections twice, citing security concerns linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria. In 2013, lawmakers voted to extend parliament’s term by 17 months and then voted again in 2014 to extend their tenure an additional two years and seven months.

In May, Berri said legislative elections scheduled for 2017 would take place within constitutional deadlines even if rival parties fail to reach an agreement over a new electoral law.

The current law, which originally dates back to 1960, was amended and adopted in 2008 as part of a comprehensive deal struck in Doha. The Doha Accord ended an 18-month political feud that had exploded on May 7, 2008 into deadly sectarian fighting, threatening to plunge the nation into all-out chao