FPM hinges pact with opposition to agreement on election lists

Aoun demands overhaul of political and economic institutions as price for unity

By Majdoline Hatoum , Daily Star , May 21, 2005

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BEIRUT: Lebanon’s increasingly confusing electoral scene took another dramatic turn with the news that Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Party will break away from its opposition allies unless they reach an agreement on sharing parliamentary lists in the next 24 hours.

It is understood the FPM is demanding the opposition declare it will overhaul Lebanon’s political and economic institutions after the elections as its price for fighting the election as a united front.

FPM politburo member Hikmat Deeb said: “We are waiting for them to decide on issues we have labeled important for us, such as preparing an agenda for political reform to be able to hold an alliance, and that should happen within the next 24 hours.”

“If that doesn’t happen we will announce our electoral lists in the next 48 hours,” he added.

Earlier in the day Aoun met with several political figures, including Gabriel Murr, a member of the Christian opposition Qornet Shehwan Gathering, who said after the meeting the opposition was determined to “go through the electoral process united.”

The Gathering has formed an alliance with other opposition factions in Lebanon including Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Forces and Saad Hariri.

Aoun also met with independent candidate Riyad Asaad, who is running for a legislative seat in the South.

Following the meeting, Asaad said Aoun informed him the FPM has chosen to stand in the mainly Shiite South First District, and is considering taking part in the largely Christian Second District. This district includes Jezzine, an area the Christian opposition insists is not accurately represented in the current electoral process.

Asaad said: “It will be a very hard battle, but we have decided on going through it with Aoun no matter what the circumstances are.”

According to the 2000 electoral law, the legal framework for the elections which start on May 29, the South is divided into two districts which are drawn in a way that enables Lebanon’s two major Shiite factions, Hizbullah and the Amal Movement, to sweep most of the parliamentary seats in the South..

Meanwhile, a delegation from Jumblatt visited Strida Geagea, wife of jailed LF leader Samir Geagea, during the day, in a bid to strengthen the electoral alliance between the LF and Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party.

Following the meeting Druze MP Akram Chehayeb said the visit was part of the “ongoing electoral consultation between the two parties.”

He added they were trying to reach an agreement with Aoun so the opposition could go through polls with unified lists.

He added a meeting that took place between MPs from Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc earlier in the day was set only to discuss “general electoral issues.”

Meanwhile Hariri said he would continue his father’s economic plan after the elections.

Speaker Nabih Berri called on the voters to cast their ballots in support of a cause and not a certain person. Speaking to a group of supporters in his home in Mosseileh, Berri said said: “The electoral process in the South will also be a vote on Resolution 1559, and will show who supports the Lebanese internal unity and who is working against it.”

The resolution, issued last September, called among other things for the disarmament of Hizbullah, a crucial issue for a lot of people in the South, who view the party as the main reason behind the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied area in 2000.

Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush has pledged to help the new leaders of Lebanon after the elections to “build a lasting democracy.”

During a speech to the International Republican Institute in Washington, Bush said: “In Lebanon, the citizens of that nation rose up to demand their independence, and will vote in elections that are set to start at the end of this month.”

He added: “Those elections must go forward with no outside influence. And when the Lebanese people have chosen their leaders, the world’s free nations will be there to help them build a lasting democracy.”