Beirut: In what is turning out to be a matter of confessional principle that upholds Lebanon’s socio-political fabric, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt threw down the gauntlet on Sunday as he formally rejected the much discussed proportional vote law. He insisted that either an amended version of the disputed 1960 majoritarian system ought to be adopted or that the 1989 Ta’if Accords be formally applied.

Ta’if, which is yet to be ushered in, called for the creation of a Senate — presumably led by a Druze. More importantly, it maintained that confessionalism ought to be abolished, and that, to put it mildly, is work in progress in a society defined by confessionalism.

The Lebanese confessional system recognises 18 communities, both Muslim and Christian, with specific political rights, translated with representation across the spectrum, including most government offices.

Proportionality, based on each sect, would presumably grant each of the 18 leading communities their representation according to their demographic weight in the country.

Jumblatt’s remarks, which came as he was reelected to head the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), dismissed a proposal floated by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who is also the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). The Druze leader perceived Bassil’s four-party [FPM, Future Movement, Amal and Hezbollah] committee meetings to agree on a new voting system ahead of the February 21 deadline for the upcoming parliamentary polls, as little more than an FPM effort to “eliminate historic pro-Jumblatt Christian representation”.

According to the usually reliable Al Jumhuriyyah daily, “Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil told the four-party committee that he is willing to be lenient with Jumblatt regarding the Druze seats but that it is out of the question for his bloc to comprise any Christian MPs”.

In response, Jumblatt demanded that parliamentary elections be held on time (in May 2017), though he pointed out that the Ta’if Accords made no mention of sect-based proportionality, a favourite of both the FPM and Hezbollah.

What added to the ongoing confusion, exacerbated by unending meetings among elites reiterating the same positions for weeks and months on end, was the position reached by President Michel Aoun. On Friday, the head-of-state vowed to confront parties that are allegedly obstructing the endorsement of a new electoral law (the PSP), rejected the 1960 law, and threatened to put a new voting system to a popular referendum.

Foreign Minister Boutros Harb, a member of parliament from Batroun and an established constitutional scholar, clarified that a referendum “seeks to avoid [staging] elections”, which was yet another anti-Aoun and anti-FPM/Hezbollah provocation.

Jumblatt did not take the referendum bait as he stressed the necessity for a partnership with the FPM, saying that the PSP was represented in the government “with two ministers and we have voted for President Michel Aoun. We hope that President Aoun will understand different viewpoints to reach with him and others a new electoral law”, he concluded.

What truly preoccupied Jumblatt were the implications of the hybrid law proposal that calls for electing a part of parliamentary seats under a majoritarian system and another part under a proportional vote law that, he insisted, would deprive his 11-member bloc of some parliamentary seats in the Chouf-Aley region.

The Druze chieftain affirmed that full sect-based proportionality — even if is not mentioned in the Ta’if Accords — can only be introduced in Lebanon when “political confessionalism is eliminated and when Parliament becomes a non-sectarian body”. Short of that, Jumblatt reiterated, the best option is to amend the 1960 formula, or live with the consequences of a new political crisis.