Slain ex-PM’s son sees opposition landslide in Lebanon polls

BEIRUT (AFP) – Saad Hariri, whose father Rafiq was assassinated in a February bomb blast that revitalized Lebanon’s anti-Syrian opposition, predicted that it would win a landslide in parliamentary elections later this month.

In an interview with AFP, Hariri pledged a “white revolution against the police state which governed Lebanon during 15 years” — a reference to Syria and its allies.

“The opposition will win between 80 and 90 seats,” in the 128-member parliament in the elections due to kick off on May 29, he said.

Hariri, 35, announced on Sunday a list of 19 candidates for Beirut’s three multi-member constituencies, which will be the first to go to the polls in Lebanon’s phased elections.

Ten of them are Christians and the rest Muslims and they include a number of unlikely political alliances between former archfoes from Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.

Hariri’s list includes Solange Gemayel, widow of slain president and Christian warlord Bashir Gemayel, the only candidate for Beirut’s Maronite Christian seat, and Shiite movement Hezbollah’s Amin Sherri for one of the two Shiite seats.

“The opposition is not divided,” Hariri said, of recent differences among the disparate groups over the maintenance of the constituency boundaries adopted for the last elections in 2000.

Some Christian leaders have called for the elections to be delayed so that changes can be made to the boundaries which are seen as unfavourable to the Christian minority.

The head of the powerful Maronite Church, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, says the current electoral law is wrong as it results in Christian MPs being elected by Muslims.

But Hariri said that delaying the elections “would have discredited the opposition and led to a political vacuum and a military government.”

He said that he was still trying to broaden the opposition alliance to include former prime minister Michel Aoun, who returned home from 15 years of exile earlier this month following the departure of the Syrian troops who drove him out.

“We are still negotiating with the Free Patriotic Movement of General Michel Aoun and we could cooperate with him, in parliament and in the government, after the elections,” Hariri said.

“Our alliance with Solange Gemayel is, in part, an alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement,” Hariri said.

“We want transparency, much like Aoun’s movement. We share his determination to fight against corruption and to set up an audit of the state of Lebanon’s financial affairs,” he said.

Lebanon has a collassal public debt that currently stands at around 35 billion dollars despite repeated pledges to donors to implement reforms.

At the weekend, Aoun, who claims a key role in ending the 29-year Syrian troop presence, accused Hariri and other opposition politicians of “treason” for accepting the existing electoral law.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt Jumblatt announced an alliance Sunday with the now-dissolved Lebanese Forces militia of jailed Christian warlord Samir Geagea and chose a key LF militant to run on his electoral list in the Chouf district southeast of Beirut.

Hariri, who has been managing his billionaire father’s business empire since 1996, pledged to carry on the mantle of political and economic reform launched by his murdered father.

“The economic programme could not be achieved because of obstacles put in place by pillars of the (pro-Syrian) police regime,” he said.

He praised France for its constant support of “democracy in Lebanon” and said that the United States, which he recently visited, was now playing a role in helping the efforts for change.

Rafiq Hariri’s assassination on February 14 was the catalyst that prompted Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim opposition to unite and secure a Syrian military pullout ahead of this month’s poll