BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement Leader Michel Aoun said Tuesday that there was no contradiction between his initiative to change the electoral process and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's road map to save the country from crisis, stressing the need to hold parliamentary polls before a presidential vote.
“We don’t care who is elected as president, what we care about is our struggle to reform the electoral laws for the presidential and the parliamentary elections,” Aoun said after his the Reform and Change bloc meeting in Rabieh.
“This means that what Former Prime Minister Hariri suggested does not clash with our standpoint, rather it stands on our side."
Asked about the contradiction between Hariri’s opinion that a president should be elected first and Aoun’s call for the amendment of the constitution, the Maronite leader said his priority was to change the laws and elect a parliament.
“He called for presidential elections first? We call for parliamentary elections first, and then the parliament can elect a President,” Aoun said.
The FPM leader also renewed his party’s commitment to the Orthodox Gathering law for parliamentary elections - which is based on sects - and to the idea of opening up the presidential election to the public, with a voting advantage given to Christians in a first round.
“Allowing the people to directly elect the president ensures their rights,” he said. “It also allows the president to adopt policies that safeguard the national interest, as opposed to policies that are subject to foreign [manipulation].”
Stressing that it “protects the rights of all religious groups and of minorities inside sects,” Aoun expressed confidence that his initiative would establish “justice and enhance national unity and coexistence.”
The change would require the Constitution to be amended to allow Lebanese people to vote for their head of state. Aoun has suggested that Christians vote in a first round, with the top two candidates then facing a public poll open to voters of all sects.
An opponent of the Taif Agreement ever since it was signed in 1989, Aoun rejected his political rivals' accusations that his two suggestions violate the peace accord that ended Lebanon's 15-year civil war and addressed an imbalance in rights afforded to Muslims and Christians.
“The Orthodox Gathering law is the only one that ensures the rights of Christians without harming the rights of anyone else,” he said, referring to an election law proposed last year in which every sect elects representatives in Parliament from within its own community.
Aoun's comments come days after Hariri outlined Friday a road map to safeguard Lebanon’s stability and protect it from the reverberations of the turmoil in Syria and Iraq that involved the election of a new president and the withdrawal of Hezbollah from the war in Syria.
After the Christian Gathering - an umbrella group of which the Orthodox Gathering is part of - issued a statement calling Hariri’s plan an attack on the national pact, the former premier's office said the group had “deliberately distorted” his words.
Aoun’s comments also touched on the Iraq and Gaza crises.
“What is offered to Christians by giving them the choice of either masking their beliefs and embracing Islam or being exiled and beheaded is an attempt to eliminate their existence,” he said, referring to the options laid out for Mosul’s Christian communities by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
He compared the offensive by the Israeli state against Gaza's Palestinians to that of ISIS against Iraq's Christians, saying they both aimed at “eliminating the identities of the people."
“The aim of [the Israeli offensive on] Gaza is the elimination of the Palestinian identity and the displacement of whoever remains of that people in the occupied territories.”
Aoun said that with the project aiming to eliminate the two central features of the East - the presence of Christians and the Palestinian identity - “Arab nationalism collapses and gets replaced by sectarian wars,” allowing “Israel to fix its identity as a Jewish state and eliminate all threats to its survival.”