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March 14 reiterates no Cabinet with Hezbollah
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March 8 and March 14 lawmakers have failed during two rounds of talks this week to narrow the gap over a hybrid parliamentary election law amid a warning by Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel of attempts to endorse an electoral formula worse than the controversial 1960 legislation.

On Thursday, the March 14 coalition reiterated its demand for a neutral Cabinet to supervise the upcoming parliamentary round, vowing not to join a government that includes Hezbollah representatives.

The March 14 coalition will not participate in a government in which Hezbollah is represented. There is no alternative to a neutral Cabinet, or a government whose members are not running in the elections and do not belong to political parties, a senior March 14 source told The Daily Star.

The source said he expected efforts toward preparing the first Cabinet lineup by Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to be crystallized by next weekend. He rejected any link between the Cabinet formation and the approval of a new electoral law as demanded by the Hezbollah-led March 8 parties.

In an apparent response to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, who insists on seeing his party retain the Energy and Telecommunications Ministries, the March 14 source said the key portfolios of Defense, Interior, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Energy and Telecommunications should be rotated among the countrys major sects.

The March 8 camps demand for a national unity or political government is at odds with the March 14 call for a neutral Cabinet or a government of technocrats to oversee the elections, scheduled in June.

President Michel Sleiman underlined the need for Parliament to approve an electoral law that is committed to sectarian coexistence and ensuring equal power sharing between Christians and Muslims.

Speaking at a ceremony at Saint Joseph University, Sleiman said he hoped that Parliament would endorse an electoral law that ensures fair representation for women, and give 18-year-olds the right to vote and 21-year-olds the right to run in the elections. His remarks came a few hours after March 8 and March 14 lawmakers decided to meet again next Tuesday after failing to make any breakthrough during the meeting, the second this week, to reach a consensus on a hybrid vote formula. The lawmakers are members of a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with devising a new electoral law to replace the 1960 system.

Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan handed subcommittee members a table outlining a hybrid vote proposal, to receive their input.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Western Bekaa Valley MP Robert Ghanem, the chair of the subcommittee, said the lawmakers, representing Speaker Nabih Berris Amal Movement, the LF, the Kataeb Party, Hezbollah, the FPM, MP Walid Jumblatts Progressive Socialist Party and the Tashnag Party, continued their discussions in an attempt to reach a common ground on an electoral law.

Our colleague George Adwan presented a practical plan to reconcile viewpoints and distributed a table based on Speaker Nabih Berris [hybrid vote] proposal so that each MP may write what they agree or disagree to, and make reservations, Ghanem said. He added that the table would be discussed at next Tuesdays session in order to finalize the electoral law issue with a consensus.

Adwan commented that Berris hybrid law proposal, which calls for 50 percent of the lawmakers to be elected via proportional representation and the other half on a winner-takes-all system, was the basis of any agreement because no other proposal had received near unanimous support.

However, parliamentary sources in Aouns parliamentary bloc voiced fears that the LF was trying to depart from the Orthodox Gatherings electoral proposal by adopting Berris hybrid vote proposal, which had been taken off the table.

The sources said there were worries about a consensus among Berris bloc, the Future bloc, the LF and Jumblatt over a hybrid formula with some amendments in electoral districts to placate the concerns of the Future bloc and the PSP chief.

Gemayel, who had said that the hybrid law did not ensure fair representation, sounded the alarm over what he said were attempts to pass a law worse than the 1960 law.

I dont have any intention to obstruct anything and my opposition will be civilized and democratic. But I feel that a plan is being cooked up somewhere to approve a law that will take us back to what is worse than the 1960 law, Gemayel, a subcommittee member, told reporters after the meeting in Parliament.

He said his party was against adopting the qada as an electoral district under a winner-takes-all system, which is the basis of the 1960 legislation, or larger constituencies under proportional representation.

Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad, a subcommittee member, said his party would agree to any electoral proposal that could secure a Christian consensus.

We are ready to agree on anything to which the Christian parties agree. When they agree on an [electoral] formula, we will agree to it, he said. Additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis

source By Hussein Dakroub