Lebanon parties eye joint poll lists

Lebanon's opposition parties have agreed at a meeting to set up a leadership committee to draft joint electoral lists to bolster Christian representation in polls later this month.

    The opposition leaders will draft joint election lists

    "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 released on Thursday said.

    An source close to slain former premier Rafik al-Hariri told reporters the committee was expected to meet very quickly and include figures of the Christian and Muslim opposition.

    Members are expected to include Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, al-Hariri's son and candidate Saadeddin, Christian Michel Aoun as well as Sitrida Geagea, the wife of jailed former Christian militia leader Samir Geagea.

    Exercise's aim

    Aljazeera reported that the committee's new rules would counter the perceived shortcomings of the 2000 parliamentary elections law.

    Opposition leaders are under
    pressure to heal growing rifts

    A statement issued after a meeting held by the opposition, said it had been decided that opposition blocs would be invited to attend a meeting for drafting common electoral rules for all regions.

    The aim of the exercise would be to minimise the adverse effects of the electoral law that, in the words of the statement, had been put in place by the Syrian-Lebanese security system.
    In another development, the head of the Lebanese Popular Congress Kamal Shatila has announced that his party will boycott the parliamentary elections, which he says lacks legitimacy.

    Elections delay?

    The four-hour opposition on Thursday meeting opened amid growing rifts and calls for the elections to be delayed after stern warnings from the powerful Maronite Church over constituency boundaries.

    Maronite bishops, led by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, warned on Wednesday that elections held on the basis of the Syrian-tailored 2000 law used in the last polls will further marginalise the Christians and return a pro-Syrian parliament to Lebanon.

    Nasrallah Sfeir says polls would
    upset delicate sectarian balance

    Sfeir reiterated the church's views on Thursday saying the 2000 law, which stipulate large constituencies preferred by the pro-Syrian and Muslim camp, is unfair to Christians who want smaller, more representative constituencies.

    "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, stopping short from calling for a delay.

    But the press, and some politicians who boycotted the opposition meeting, saw in those statements a threat to holding elections on time.

    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".

    'Sectarian strife'

    Simon Karam, a former ambassador to Washington, told AFP he quit the Christian opposition Qornet Shehwan movement, in protest against the law "which exacerbates sectarian strife".

    "The opposition will
    end up by agreeing
    on a solution that satisfies everyone"

    Nassib Lahud,
    Christian MP

    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."

    Lebanon is expected to hold four-stage elections staring May 29, a month after Syria withdrew its troops and intelligence agents from the country under US and French pressure.

    "The opposition will end up by agreeing on a solution that satisfies everyone," Christian MP Nassib Lahud told AFP at the start of the meeting. 



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