Hariri’s son enters Lebanon election race amid Christian warnings

BEIRUT (AFP) – Saadeddin Hariri, son of the slain former premier Rafiq Hariri, has thrown his hat into the ring for elections which Christian bishops warned could upset Lebanon’s delicate religious coexistence.

Hariri, whose father was killed on February 14, planned to unveil his electoral list Tuesday night but delayed the move amid cracks within the anti-Syrian Lebanese opposition.

The government, under pressure from the international community, said elections for a 128-seat parliament will take place on four consecutive Sundays starting May 29, a month after Syria pulled its troops from Lebanon.

The polls will be based on a Syrian-tailored law used in the last polls in 2000 that breaks Lebanon into large constituencies, seen as unfavourable to the large Christian minority which is demanding smaller voting areas.

Led by Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, the bishops warned that the 2000 law “violates … coexistence between Christians and Muslims and does not allow for fair elections.

“Based on this formula, only 15 Christian deputies will be elected by Christian voters while 49 others will be chosed by mainly Muslim voters,” they said in a statement.

“This means that Muslims will choose Christian deputies as was the case when Lebanon was under (Syrian) tutelage”.

The terms of the 1989 Taif accord that paved the way for the end of the 1975-1990 civil war stipulates an equal number of seats in parliament for Christians and Muslims.

But Christians elected in the larger constituencies have usually been chosen by Muslims close to the Syrian camp.

On Tuesday Sfeir told visitors: “We have been unable so far to unify our ranks and speak with one voice. There are too many contradictions … the situation is deteriorating.”

Cracks in opposition ranks have emerged amid reports that Druze chief Walid Jumblatt, with the backing of Rafiq Hariri’s Sunni Muslim party, appears to accept the larger constitutional boundaries favoured by the pro-Syrian Shiites.

In a renewed effort to close ranks, the Christian and Muslim opposition have announced plans to meet Thursday in a fresh bid to define a strategy for the polls.

The meeting will aim to draw up “a democratic reform programme to serve as a basis for the elections battle” and “to guarantee coordination among the different factions of the opposition”, they said in a statement.

A newcomer to politics, Hariri’s son, Saadeddin, “now bears the onus of participating in the slithery Byzantine political scene in Lebanon”, the English-language Daily Star said in an editorial Wednesday.

“His inexperience in walking the crooked paths of the Lebanese political environment is not a detriment but rather an asset to him,” the newspaper said.

“Because of his lack of exposure to the corrupt reality of the Lebanese state, he has the means to resist negative aspects of governance that are so prevalent here.”

Hariri, 35, who has been heading his father’s financial empire, told thousands of supporters at his home late Monday he will carry his father’s mantle and run in one of Beirut’s three constituencies.

He has until Friday to announce his list.

Meanwhile Christian hardliner Michel Aoun, who returned triumphantly Saturday from exile in France, pursued his efforts to build bridges with former foes in a bid to reform Lebanon and set up a secular state.

Aoun, who was booted out by Syrian troops after his defeat in a bloody “war of liberation” in the dying days of the civil war, met separately Tuesday with Hariri and a delegation from parliament speaker Nabih Berri’s Shiite Amal movement.

An advance party of
European Union experts arrived in Lebanon ahead of a 90-strong team of EU observers who will monitor the polls.