Aoun: Lebanon political class corrupt


BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Lebanese general who fought the Syrian army in the 1980s sharply criticized the anti-Syrian opposition Thursday and warned that upcoming elections could return to Parliament the same politicians that long followed the lead of Damascus.

Gen. Michel Aoun came back to Lebanon nearly two weeks ago after 14 years in exile in the wake of Syria’s military withdrawal, hailed by his supporters and vowing to use his stature to help build a broad opposition alliance. But opposition figures have been putting together their own election deals that leave him out in the cold.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Aoun called the entire political class corrupt, accusing opposition politicians of betraying their popular base and of coming only recently to their anti-Syrian stances.

“This is an old habit. They (politicians) are looking for their own interests … there is a big difference between the people’s wishes and the interest of the political class,” he said.

“Most of them are responsible for 15 years of corruption and misleading of the country,” he said. “They were pro-Syrian all the time and now they are using Syria to scare people and (get them to) vote for them,” he said.

Aoun, a former Christian army commander who fought and lost a “war of liberation” against the Syrians in Lebanon in 1989, regards himself as the “real opposition” – in contrast to politicians he says were Syria’s allies but turned on Damascus along with popular sentiment a few months before and particularly after the Feb. 14 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Aoun’s criticism could be an attempt to improve his bargaining position as he negotiates election alliances or to try to define his own independent movement in the postelection period. He has yet to say whether he is running in the elections, though he’s widely expected at the least to field candidates from his Free Patriotic Movement in many regions.

The general criticized opposition leaders for agreeing to go along with a divisive election law under which the balloting will be contested. The vote begins May 29 and takes place on four consecutive Sundays.

“They started by betraying the relations that we have built up for the liberation of Lebanon,” he said, without elaborating.

He did not name the leaders, but Aoun has been involved in recent days in a spat with Druse leader Walid Jumblatt and has been critical of Hariri’s son, Saad.

There is a widespread agreement among politicians that the election law, drawn up in 2000 at the height of Syrian control, sets voting districts in a way that marginalizes many Lebanese groups and boosts pro-Syrian candidates. The influential Maronite Catholic Church has sharply criticized the law, saying it results in legislators who are not representative.

Nevertheless, some opposition groups went along with the government’s decision to apply the same law in the upcoming elections – either because it suited their electoral interests or because they felt it couldn’t be changed in time to hold elections on schedule as demanded by the international community.

The result are new divisions in the anti-Syrian camp, which had seen strong unity among Christians and Muslims in rejecting Syrian dominance following Rafik Hariri’s assassination. The opposition blamed the killing on Syria and its allied government in Beirut, a charge both denied. Mass anti-Syrian protests and international pressure led to Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon last month.

Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, has put forward a diverse list of candidates expected to sweep election in Beirut – nine of his candidates have already won by default, standing uncontested. He is also fielding candidates in other parts of the country, and Jumblatt is fielding candidates in Mount Lebanon. His and Hariri’s blocs are likely to muster a majority in Parliament.

The Shiite Muslims’ pro-Syrian Hezbollah and Amal groups teamed up for joint tickets likely to sweep votes in south Lebanon and return many of Syria’s allies to parliament.

Aoun accused politicians of trying to make political gains from Hariri’s assassination.

“They are exploiting an emotional state that occurred after the martyrdom of Premier Hariri to blackmail people (into voting for them),” he said.