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French Version

Lebanon's leaders spar over election law, security posts

The stalemate that has become Lebanese politics continued Friday, with opposition members and loyalists accusing each other of sabotaging an electoral law and remaining deadlocked over the appointment of new security chiefs.

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The political bickering persisted after Parliament failed to agree on a new electoral law earlier this week, making the adoption of the current electoral law, widely viewed as corrupt, inevitable.

The Christian Qornet Shehwan opposition gathering said members of the group will run for elections despite slamming the current election law, first drafted in 2000.

After a meeting, the group said: "Qornet Shehwan rejects the structure of the 2000 electoral law, which was devised when the country was under Syrian control. But the gathering will engage in the electoral battle despite this law."

The Christian opposition favors the adoption of a law that divides the country into small constituencies. But it is understood opposition leader Walid Jumblatt and the bloc of slain former Premier Rafik Hariri are more inclined to larger constituencies, as is the case in the law adopted in 2000. This difference of opinion has triggered new rifts within the opposition.

Free Patriotic Movement leader General Michel Aoun condemned MPs Friday for failing to agree on an electoral law.

From his exile in Paris, Aoun criticized both the loyalists and opposition for allowing quarrels in Parliament Thursday to sidetrack them from the main goal of the session.

Aoun said: "What happened is shameful."

The former army commander, who has announced he will return to Lebanon early next month and run in the elections, also criticized the 2000 law but said he would run regardless of which law is adopted. He said the 2000 law is the making of

the former Syrian security chief, Ghazi Kenaan, adding that if the elections are governed by that same law, it would mean an extension of Syrian tutelage.

Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad blamed the opposition for sabotaging attempts to arrive at a new electoral law. He said: "The opposition's insistence on going ahead with the elections on time, in accordance with the will of the international community, has disrupted attempts to issue a new law based on large districts."

Aley MP Akram Shehayeb, an ally of Jumblatt, said: "Our first choice was the qada, but since we were not able to push it through, we tried to avoid giving in to a solution that would result in postponing the elections."

Qornet Shehwan member Gibran Tueini slammed Speaker Nabih Berri for "purposely postponing the adoption of an electoral law" during Thursday's parliamentary session.

He said Berri - whom he accused of continuing to follow Syrian orders - had failed to attend Parliament Thursday and allowed Deputy Speaker Michel Murr to chair in his stead in the intended aim of sabotaging the session.

The Democratic Renewal Movement called on the opposition to show a united front and adopt the draft law that divides the country into small constituencies.

The group said: "The 2000 electoral law is one of the worst laws as it distorts the will of the people."

Habib Sadeq, a member of the Democratic Forum opposition movement, said the adoption of the 2000 law would cancel all that has been achieved by the people's uprising following Hariri's murder.

Even Metn MP Emile Lahoud, son of President Emile Lahoud, slammed the 2000 law, saying he was considering dropping out of the elections if the law was in fact used.

A joint commission of parliamentary committees failed to decide on an electoral law Thursday after Murr decreed a quorum (or minimum requirement of MPs in attendance) had not been met, effectively adopting the disputed 2000 law due to a constitutional deadline for elections to be announced.

But members of the opposition hit back by saying that the quorum was met, but that some MPs had left the session momentarily, as frequently occurs.

The 2000 law divides parts of the country into large constituencies and others into smaller ones, which has awarded it the reputation of being tailor-made to suite specific political leaders.

Meanwhile, sources said the deadlock over the appointment of a new chief to head the Surete Generale security agency was not about to be resolved.

The sources added that, "hopefully," a solution would come out next week.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati slammed the bickering among ministers over the appointment of security chiefs, saying he refused "confessional fanaticism."

The premier-designate said: "The only thing we are fanatic about is our national unity and our duty is to protect it and to protect our nation."

Mikati reiterated his pledge not to run in the coming parliamentary elections, adding none of his close relatives would run either.

During Thursday's Cabinet session, Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa and Hizbullah ally Labor and Agriculture Minister Tarrad Hamade insisted the new Surete Generale chief be Shiite. But Defense Minister Elias Murr, backed by his father-in-law President Lahoud, is threatening to resign if the post is not attributed to a Maronite.

Traditionally, the post goes to a Maronite but that practice was cast aside with the appointment of Major General Jamil Sayyed, a Shiite, in 1999. Ironically, it was President Lahoud who appointed Sayyed.

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Beirut 02-05-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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