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Aoun-Jumblatt alliance unlikely in Lebanon polls

With less than a week left to go before the start of the first leg of Lebanon's Parliamentary elections, the electoral alliance between leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Michel Aoun and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Walid Jumblatt appears to have disintegrated into shambles.

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But the possibility of an alliance between Aoun's FPM and Saad Hariri, head of the Future Movement and Jumblatt's staunchest political ally, remained strong with reports that a coalition might be formed between the two parties in North Lebanon.

Aoun, who formally announced he will be running in the elections, said Sunday: "We will continue discussions with Hariri even if talks have ended with Jumblatt."

Aoun's main rift with Jumblatt surrounds the Aley-Baabda electoral district, where Aoun's FPM insists on having three seats, while Jumblatt is saying the former general should not "monopolize the opposition."

Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri called on all Lebanese political factions to hold an internal discussion aimed at building "Lebanese unity," adding that sectarianism has driven the Lebanese apart.

Berri, who is expected to sweep parliamentary seats in the South alongside the Islamic resistance party Hizbullah, also called for the protection of the resistance party, which Jumblatt described as a "key ally."

He said: "The Lebanese should defend their resistance, and should show that in the upcoming polls."

Slain former Premier Rafik Hariri's sister, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, won the southern port

city of Sidon uncontested after opposing candidates withdrew from the race.

Berri had left a seat open for Hariri and Sidon MP Osama Saad - who also won uncontested in Sidon - but they chose to run as independent candidates.

Criticism of the electoral law continued with Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir saying the legal framework of the elections was the reason that several prominent politicians had chosen to boycott them.

He said in his weekly sermon: "This law is not fair, and the stepping down of many politicians from contesting the electoral battle questions whether this is actually the democratic process we were promised.

Sfeir has been one of the most vocal opponents of the 2000 electoral law, alleging it doesn't provide fair representation for Christians in the country.

A day earlier, President Emile Lahoud had also criticized the electoral law, predicting a large number of Lebanese would boycott the elections on voting day because of the divisive law.

Lahoud, who was the main instigator behind the drafting of the law in 2000, had surprised many by changing his stance to conform to that of the Christian opposition, in what many say is a bid to win Christian affection before the ballot.

He said: "The law confirms discrimination among the Lebanese and removes the necessary condition for equality among them."

Lahoud also said the law was the reason behind ex-Premier Omar Karami's decision to bow out of the electoral race.

He said: "When political leaders such as Karami decide not to participate in the elections, the democratic game is reduced to incompetence in a number of Lebanese areas, and will subsequently lead some citizens to refrain from voting."

Karami had announced his pullout from the electoral race late Friday night during a television interview.

His departure left Hariri's Future Movement the undisputed leader of the Sunni community across Lebanon.

Charging that the expected polls were meaningless because the new parliament has already been "appointed" Karami said: "A parliamentary seat will not affect one's political career.

Therefore, I have decided to boycott the election by not running in it or voting."

The pro-Syrian former premier was forced out of his post last February following the assassination of late Premier Rafik Hariri.

Meanwhile, the opposition - especially Jumblatt - vowed to unseat Lahoud once the parliamentary elections provide a new Lebanese parliament free from Syrian influence.

Opposition MP Walid Eido, who is running on Hariri's list in Beirut, said Saturday: "The dweller of Baabda palace will have one option after the elections are over, which is to quit."

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Beirut 23-05-2005
Majdoline Hatoum
The Daily Star



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