BEIRUT (CNS) — Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai commended Lebanon’s political parties for ratifying a new electoral law.

Speaking at the end of the Maronite Catholic Synod of Bishops June 17 at Bkerke, north of Beirut, Cardinal Rai said the long-awaited law “rescued the country from a political crisis that would have had severe repercussions on the national sectors.”

Lebanon’s parliament ratified the new electoral law June 16. The new law replaces the existing winner-takes-all voting system with proportional representation and reduces the number of electoral districts. It allows Christians to elect a larger number of members of Parliament in areas with Christian electoral majorities.

About 40 percent of the approximate 4 million Lebanese citizens residing in the country are Christian.

Lebanon has the only Christian head of state in the entire Middle East and North Africa. Under Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Catholic, while the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament is a Shiite Muslim.

Cardinal Rai called on Lebanon’s politicians “to preserve democracy, which distinguishes Lebanon” from its surroundings. He urged them to practice democracy “inside the parliament, Cabinet, ministries and the entire administrations.”

The new electoral law paves the way for the first national elections since 2009. Parliamentary elections are slated to be held in May 2018. The sitting parliament has extended its own term three times since it originally expired in 2013.

Cardinal Rai also called upon the international community “and the states concerned — regionally and internationally — to stop the wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine and beyond, and to stop the support of terrorist organizations and their operations in various countries.”

He also urged the United Nations to find political solutions to the conflicts “and to work hard to bring about a just, comprehensive and lasting peace and the return of displaced persons and refugees to their homelands.”

“Their natural right is to preserve their property, culture and civilization,” he added.