Lebanon Church Seeks New Election Law

By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanon’s powerful Maronite Catholic Church on Wednesday rejected the election law drafted under Syrian dominance as unfair and asked that it be revised before parliamentary elections this month that have been pushed by Washington.

Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir did not call for a boycott or postponement of the elections slated to begin May 29, but his challenge to the election law could further complicate efforts to start the vote on time.

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The 2000 election law, passed at the height of Syrian control, was based on large electoral districts and many believe was tailored to help pro-Syrian candidates and resulted in a pro-Syrian parliament at the time.

The church advocates a new election law based on smaller districts that it says would be more representative of the country’s 17 sects and bring about the equal representation of Christians and Muslims

Parliament would have to meet, draft and pass the new law.

Seats in Lebanon’s 128-member legislature are split equally among Christians, who are a minority and the Muslims, the majority.

But under the current election law, the church says, about 50 of the 64 Christian lawmakers would be selected by Muslim voters in violation of the constitution which calls for national coexistence among Muslims and Christians.

“Insistence on holding legislative elections under this unfair law will have dire consequences, which we don’t want and don’t wish for,” said a church statement Wednesday.

The Maronite church, the largest sect among the estimated 30 percent or so Christian groups, has long opposed Syrian dominance of Lebanon.

The elections, to be held in four stages, will be the first since the Syrian military withdrawal.

The opposition is hoping to seize control of parliament and break the hold of Syria’s allies on power.

Prominent anti-Syrian leader Michel Aoun, a Christian who returned late last week from a 14-year exile in France, also criticized the current election law Wednesday as a leftover from the Syrian era of domination.