Lebanon opposition to set up committee to save polls – News Update

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s anti-Syrian opposition agreed to draft joint lists to bolster Christian representation in legislative polls later this month, in a bid to patch up differences that threatened the elections.

The move came a day after the powerful Maronite Church warned that a Syrian-tailored 2000 electoral law used in the last polls would marginalize the large minority of Christians and upset Lebanon’s delicate religious co-existence.

“We have decided to call a meeting of the heads of opposition factions to draft joint electoral lists … to contain the flaws of the (2000 electoral) law imposed by the Syrian-Lebanese security authorities,” a statement said.

The opposition also accused Syria, which officially completed a troop withdrawal from Lebanon April 26, of “continuing to intervene in Lebanon … through allies in order to jeopardize the democratic process” in the country.

And it called for the release of jailed former Christian warlord Samir Geagea before the elections “in order to consecrate national reconciliation”.

A source close to slain former premier Rafiq Hariri told AFP the committee would meet soon and include Christian and Muslim opposition figures such as Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, Hariri’s son and candidate Saad, and Christian hardliner Michel Aoun.

After the meeting, Hariri announced he would postpone his plan to reveal at a huge rally Thursday night his electoral list to allow for more consultations with fellow opposition leaders.

A newcomer to politics, Hariri, 35, announced to his supporters Monday night that he would carry his father’s mantle and run in one of Beirut’s three constituencies. He has until Friday night to announce his list.

Meanwhile, thousands of Christians from across Lebanon rallied at the seat of the Maronite Church in Bkerke, northeast of Beirut, to pledge their support to Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, who is fiercely opposed to the 2000 law.

Sfeir appealed for unity and told the demonstrators that “Lebanon belongs to all its sons, not to one religious faction”.

“Muslims must choose their deputies and Christians must choose their own,” Sfeir said.

He was referring to the church’s insistance that polls be based on a 1960 law that stipulates smaller, more representative constituencies, instead of larger ones preferred by the pro-Syrian camp.

“It is out of the question to hold elections under such conditions. We want a law that guarantees the representation of all the Lebanon,” Sfeir said earlier in the day.

The press and some politicians, who boycotted the opposition meeting, meanwhile warned that the brewing crisis over constitency boundaries could delay the polls. The elections are to be held in four stages, starting May 29.

“All the options are open, including a postponment of the elections,” Aoun said on a radio talk show, and did not exclude that the polls should be boycotted “if one party insists on imposing its conditions”.

Christian MP Ghassan Moukhaiber told AFP “elections should be postponed by a few weeks, in order to agree on a law acceptable to all, or reduce the (four-year) term of parliament to one year and task it with drafting a new one”.

An editorial in the English-language Daily Star said: “The sane thing to do would be to delay the elections until October and have parliament work on a proper electoral law.”