By Nadim Ladki BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Druze opposition leader Walid Jumblatt rejected a delay in upcoming elections and urged opposition factions on Sunday to draw up a political program for Lebanon after a May general election. Pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami is expected to unveil a long-awaited new government on Monday to lead the country into the election but his insistence on a new law organizing the poll makes a delay almost inevitable. “Of course we insist on elections on schedule,” Jumblatt told a news conference, predicting an opposition win regardless of the shape of the electoral law. “I call on the opposition to meet and come up with a program, because it’s not enough that we reach the elections and vote. We should have a clear and ambitious answer to what’s next,” the Druze chieftain, an ally-turned-foe of Syria, said. “In the end of the day, we will win the elections.” Staunch anti-Syrian Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun told local media he planned to return to Lebanon on May 7, ending nearly 14 years in exile.


Syria, under U.S.-led pressure and facing popular protests after the Feb. 14 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, has pledged to withdraw its troops from Lebanon by April 30.

Syrian forces first moved into Lebanon in 1976, near the start of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, and became the dominant force in Lebanese politics.

Lebanon’s disparate anti-Syrian opposition — mainly Christian, Druze and Sunni Muslim — have maintained a common ground since Hariri’s death, demanding a Syrian withdrawal and an international investigation into the killing.

Some cracks have surfaced, mainly on the issue of disarming of the Shi’ite Muslim guerrilla group Hizbollah and the election law, but Jumblatt said there were no rifts among the opposition.

He again said Hizbollah should not lay down its weapons, as demanded by a U.N. Security Council resolution, for the time being. Some Christian opposition figures have said talks should start immediately with Hizbollah over disarming.

The United States and the United Nations have called for the elections to be held on time and demanded the disarmament of Hizbollah. The Security Council last week ordered an independent probe into Hariri’s killing.

The opposition should also agree on an economic plan and a common stance on Iraq and the Palestinian issue, Jumblatt said.


Lebanon has been without a government since anti-Syrian protests forced Karami and his government to resign on Feb. 28.

Parliament reappointed the veteran Sunni politician a few days later. His efforts to form a unity government failed when the opposition refused to join any cabinet alongside loyalists.

The delay in forming the government was seen by the opposition as an attempt to postpone the elections, due before the term of the mainly pro-Syrian parliament expired by May 31.

Karami said the new government will draw up a draft law organizing polls which should see Lebanon divided into at least five large constituencies. Work on the draft is expected to take weeks, forcing a delay in the polls, political sources say.

They say the opposition wants elections as soon as possible to capitalize on public sympathy after Hariri’s death. Loyalists want a delay in the hope that public fury will die down and divisions will appear among the ranks of a disparate opposition.

Karami’s new government is set to be made up of mainly pro-Syrian politicians and about half of its members are from the previous cabinet, the political sources said.

Syria began withdrawing its 14,000 troops and dismantling intelligence posts on March 8, in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that foreign forces leave.

More than 100 Syrian tanks and military vehicles left Lebanon over the weekend and intelligence agents left an office west of the ancient Bekaa town of Baalbek, witnesses said.

In central Beirut, scene of huge political rallies in recent weeks, thousands took part in a five-km (3.2-mile) race to launch festivities to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the start of Lebanon’s civil war which began on April 13.