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(Picture: Annahar1)

Picture retrieved from May 12, 2005

Lebanese Christian clergy blasts election law

Maronite bishops warn Syrian-tailored election law will disrupt fragile Christian-Muslim coexistence.

May 11, 2005 Reuters

Lebanon's Maronite bishops warned on Wednesday that a Syrian-tailored election law adopted for polls starting this month would disrupt the country's delicate Christian-Muslim coexistence.

"Insisting on holding parliamentary elections under this unfair law will have detrimental consequences that we do not want or wish for," the Council of Maronite Bishops said in a statement after an emergency meeting.

The law "violates... co-existence between Christians and Muslims and does not allow for fair elections", said a seven-point statement issued after a meeting called by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir.

"We call on all Christian and Muslim officials to look at this delicate situation and put national interests ahead, holding onto the coexistence that brings together Muslims and Christians on an equal footing," it said.

Lebanon's political system carefully distributes political offices among myriad religious minorities who fought a 15-year war that split the country into Christian and Muslim enclaves.

But the bishops said the law organising the polls, held in four rounds from May 29 to June 19, will penalise Christians and effectively give them less power in the chamber.

The bishops said the election law was imposed against the wishes of most Lebanese, whose street protests helped force Syria to end its 29-year military presence last month.

The law carves Lebanon into a mixture of larger and smaller constituencies favouring Damascus' allies. It is expected to bring most of the same faces back.

Most Christian lawmakers, who want smaller constituencies so their voice is not lost among Muslims in larger voting areas, have protested against the law but did not have the majority to overturn it, particularly as the constitutional deadline for timely elections approached.


Lebanon's Maronite Bishops slam 'unjust' electoral law

May 12, 2005 Daily Star

BEIRUT: Lebanon's Maronite Bishops Council slammed the country's pro-Syrian election law, under which this month's elections will be held, warning that it "violates" Christian-Muslim coexistence. The bishops said the law "violates coexistence between Christians and Muslims and does not allow for fair elections."

The strong language used by the bishops has raised tensions ahead of elections which are scheduled to begin in just over two weeks.

The bishops' statement said the law was "unjust and didn't allow Christians to properly elect their representatives." It added the law failed to "reflect the Lebanese true will" and called on politicians to "act and prevent the harmful repercussions of this law."

Meanwhile with political tension rising, former army commander General Michel Aoun paid a surprise visit to Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir and expressed his support to the bishop's statement.

Aoun said: "This law marginalizes a part of the Lebanese citizens, and the Lebanese will fight this situation which they have refused for the past 15 years."

Christians account for around 40 percent of the country's population. Under the confessional system they are allocated 64 of the Parliament's 128 seats.

But the Maronite Bishops Council insists the electoral law of 2000 allows Christians to elect only 14 of their MPs, while the other 50 Christian MPs will be elected by Muslims under the current list system.

The council said the 2000 law was "straying away from the Taif Accord" which stresses equal partnership between Christians and Muslims.

Hizbullah declined to comment on the statement. Saadeddine Hariri's office also declined to comment. Saadeddine is the son of assassinated former Premier Rafik Hariri and he is running for Parliament for the first time.

But Beirut MP Atef Majdalani, a member of Hariri's parliamentary Dignity Bloc, said: "I am really surprised. What is the purpose behind the strong words, and what caused it?"

He said: "I understand Sfeir's stand that the electoral law is unjust, but Sfeir's intentional or unintended violent reaction and the use of sectarianism and strong language will only benefit the current regime."

He added: "When the authority saw the national opposition was able to accomplish many things, the current president and the group around him started to fight the opposition by bringing up sectarian conflicts.

Meanwhile, other opposition MPs including Fares Soueid and Farid Khazen backed the Bishops Council's stand.

Also on Wednesday, Saadeddine Hariri met with Beirut Orthodox Archbishop Elias Aoudi and Beirut's Maronite Bishop Bolus Matar.

Hariri said: "The new parliament after the 2005 elections will have the duty of passing a new electoral law, so that we would not have to wait until the last minute" to form an electoral law in future.

Hariri is expected to announce his long-awaited list of candidates tomorrow.