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A great opportunity is slipping away

(A stand against the year 2000 electoral law) 5/12/05

While the world continues to watch with excitement Lebanon's progress towards real sovereignty and free elections, many Lebanese and Lebanese Americans are frustrated by anxiety and mixed feelings. On the surface, the last uniformed Syrian soldier and the known leaders of Syrian intelligence services have departed. The heads of the Lebanese security services have been sacked. An international committee under UN control is in progress to investigate the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. A somewhat independent government of technocrats is in charge, and has won the confidence of the Lebanese people despite the fact that the new Prime Minister is a close friend of the Syrian President. This is the good news.

Behind the scene it is said that up to 5000 secret Syrian intelligence agents in civilian dress were left behind, as stated by some US officials and reported by various media. Kuwaiti daily Assiyasa and Lebanon's weekly Al-Shiraa have further published the name of an ousted Lebanese security boss as being named to command those assets!? While this dangerous possible breach of UNSC resolution 1559 by Syria is questionable, another dangerous piece of bad news relates to the Lebanese Parliament. While the US, France and the International Community were concerned about the "secret word" managing to cancel or postpone the parliamentary elections, they firmly pressured Lebanon to schedule the election within the constitutional dead line. Their intention certainly was not to allow, not even a short extension of the life of this made in Syria Parliament. However this may have resulted in unwittingly prolonging this parliament's life by another four years. Somehow, the secret word skillfully maneuvered to use the short elections deadline to force in the Ghazi Kanaan 2000 electoral law, which will practically result in cloning of the current parliament.

While most of the opposition and many of the Syrian allies wanted the 1960 electoral law, the strong hand of the most pro-Syrian leader prevailed with the help of some tacit hypocritical approval of some, even within the opposition. The result is an intensified sectarian tension, some news of the opposition unraveling despite reassurance from its most prominent leaders, General Aoun and Saad Al Hariri. Worst of all, the council of bishops under the leadership of the most moderate Christian leader, Patriarch Sfeir, felt compelled to issue a warning and complained that the Christian voters can only elect 15 Christian deputies of the 64 allocated. This certainly is no prescription for the elimination of "confessionalism" from the Lebanese democratic system. Such progress will only be achieved if all Lebanese communities Moslems and Christians, Sunnis, Shiites and Druze, Maronites, Orthodox, Melkites, Armenians, Alauites, etc… feel secure and no group tries to dominate the rest. The divisive 2000 electoral law is not only just unfair to Christians alone, it also marginalizes the smaller Moslem parties and leaders, particularly the Shiites who are not affiliated with Hezballah or Amal.

The American Lebanese Foundation ( ALF ) is gratified that the main objective for its existence, the Lebanese sovereignty is being achieved. This could not have happened were it not for the strong support of the US Administration under the leadership of President George W. Bush, in cooperation with French President Jacques Chirac. ALF would have preferred that the Syrians exit under more honorable and friendlier conditions. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, they chose to allow events to develop in this manner. Nevertheless, all Lebanese leaders whether from the old or new opposition or the old allies, want good neighborly relations with Syria. We certainly hope Syria will make that possible.

As to our US Administration leadership, France, the Arab and World community, Lebanon must be very grateful for the attention and help received, to be born again, as a free, independent, sovereign, and democratic country. However Lebanon needs to hit the new ground in the right direction and may not benefit from hitting the ground running in the wrong direction. It will be much better postponing the elections up to 2 or 3 months and performing them under a fair law that allows proper representation, than rushing under a law that allows practically a cloning of the outgoing parliament. The 2000 electoral law is already destroying the spirit of the Cedar Revolution and raising questions about hypocrisy, lack of leadership, treachery and a vacuum of statesmanship. It is projecting the emergence of a new parliament that will certainly not have the spirit of balance and national unity that can handle the sensitive issues that need to be addressed so that UNSC resolution 1559 is satisfied without polarization and possible implosion of the Lebanese system.

Lebanon cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity to be born again as a progressive, modern independent state. We therefore appeal to all Lebanese leaders to find a mechanism to allow rectification of the electoral law, so that all segments of the Lebanese population are properly represented, in the name of true national unity and the best interest of Lebanon. We also appeal to the US administration and the Arab and International community to help and support such option. We hope that the gains achieved from the newly found freedom and democracy in Lebanon will not be endangered by the magic of a "secret word" or fixation over a "meaningless" electoral date that may produce the opposite of the intended results.


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