Foes unite as Lebanon election campaign kicks off

By Hala Boncompagni , Middle East Times

BEIRUT —  Campaigning kicked off on May 16 for parliamentary elections in Lebanon as former civil war foes formed unlikely political alliances.

The influential head of the Maronite Church, meanwhile, reiterated calls for efforts to ensure that the polls are representative of Lebanon’s different sects.

In a move seen by the press as a step toward the first genuine attempt at national reconciliation since the end of the 1975-90 civil war, Druze chief Walid Jumblatt and Sunni leader Saad Al Hariri joined forces with former foes.

Jumblatt and Sitrida Geagea, wife of the jailed leader of the disbanded Lebanese Forces Christian militia, Samir Geagea, have formed an alliance and announced a joint electoral list, pledging to “turn the page on the past”.

The Lebanese Forces and militants from Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party fought ferocious battles for supremacy in the Shouf mountains, east of Beirut, during the war.

Hariri, a son of slain former prime minister Rafiq Al Hariri, picked Solange Gemayel, widow of slain former president and Christian warlord Bashir Gemayel, as the sole Maronite candidate on his electoral list for Beirut’s three districts.

Rafiq Al 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 from the country last month ahead of the crucial polls that open on May 29.

The Maronite Church, led by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, continued to complain that the polls would not meet the aspirations of Lebanon’s large Christian minority.

“Some politicians are only after their own interests,” Sfeir told visitors on Monday. “Elections must be representative.”

Sfeir is fiercely opposed to elections on the basis of a Syrian-tailored 2000 law, which he says marginalizes the Christians.

The law calls for elections to be held in larger districts where the Christians are not well represented and where Christian candidates end up being chosen by Muslim voters.

The Lebanese press, which hailed the new alliances, reported that Sfeir was mulling plans to hold a Christian congress to review developments in the country.

Opposition Christian MP Farid Khazen echoed Sfeir and said: “We consider the 2000 law the burial ground of democratic life in Lebanon.

“Yesterday’s [Sunday] electoral lists show that the results of the polls are being fabricated even before they are announced. An essential sector of the Lebanese people is being thrown out of the political game.”

Michel Aoun, a Christian hardliner and former head of a military government booted out by the Syrians 15 years ago, also criticized Hariri’s Future Bloc and Jumblatt’s party, accusing them of “treason”.

Christian politicians, who want elections in smaller districts, have accused Hariri and Jumblatt of breaking ranks with the rest of the opposition and agreeing to hold elections based on the 2000 law.

Pro-Syrian parliament speaker Nabih Berri has rejected any calls for the amendment of the 2000 law.

On Saturday he announced a single candidates’ list for his Amal faction and the Shia militant group Hizbullah for the two constituencies that make up Lebanon’s Shia southern heartland.