BEIRUT/ZALKA/JOUNIEH, Lebanon: Christians in three key electoral districts voiced their support Friday for the controversial Orthodox proposal and expressed their hope that the law would be adopted for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The so-called “Orthodox” law, which was endorsed by parliamentary committees earlier this week, has been met with fierce criticism from opponents, who argue the law is unconstitutional and would deepen sectarian division. One of them, President Michel Sleiman, has indicated that he would challenge it in court.
According to the draft law, which has been endorsed by Christian political parties and the March 8 alliance, each sect would elect its own MPs with the country as a single district.
In Kesrouan, Metn and the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh, many told The Daily Star that the sect-based voting system should not be a reason to oppose the draft law. Only a handful of people interviewed in these areas came out against the proposal.
While working on watches in his repair shop in Metn’s Zalka, Tony Hajj said he opposed the idea because it wasn’t in line with the Taif Accord:
“Taif called for equal power sharing between Christians and Muslims, it called for coexistence, but it did not call for each sect to elect its own MPs.”
A supporter of the March 14 coalition, Hajj said that such an electoral law would segregate sects and should be rejected. “I hope it doesn’t pass in Parliament,” he said.
“As Christians, we should vote for Muslims and Muslims should vote for Christians,” Hajj added.
In nearby Jal al-Dib, Therese Tom said she wasn’t sure whether the law was as bad as its critics say.
“Yes in principle it is bad because not all Lebanese support it,” Tom explained. “It is good and not good at the same time.”
However, many people said they would go to polling stations and vote for the first time in their lives if the Orthodox law is adopted.
“Since I am originally from the Bekaa Valley [a Hezbollah stronghold], I don’t usually take part in the elections because my vote doesn’t count anyway,” Tom said. “I would definitely vote if this [Orthodox law] is adopted.”
Tom, 45, supports the March 14 coalition and believes the chances are low that the proposal will become the country’s official electoral law. Many people share Tom’s view and doubt whether the draft law would pass a general vote in Parliament.
“I really doubt it will be used in this year’s elections,” Tom added.
Others said that as long as Lebanon’s political system was based on sectarianism, the Orthodox proposal was a logical development.
“I hope they adopt this law for the elections to stop non-Christians from choosing Christian MPs,” said George Abu Ghazali, who owns a barbershop in Zalka.
“Do Christian politicians choose who the Muslim MPs are? Why should Muslim leaders choose our MPs?” said Ghazali, a supporter of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.
Reading a newspaper in front of his shop, 67-year-old Naoum Zainoun said that although he supports the law, some amendments should be made to convince the proposal’s opponents to vote for it.
“We are reading about it every day; maybe some changes need to be made so that all Lebanese agree on it,” said Zainoun, a follower of Metn’s Orthodox politician Michel Murr. “But as a Maronite, I totally support the law.”
In Kesrouan’s Zouk Mosbeh, Joseph, a businessman who requested to be identified by first name only, said the adoption of the Orthodox proposal was crucial for the country’s future.
“Let me be honest with you, if Christians don’t recover their rights in this country, there will no longer be a country called Lebanon,” he said.
“We fought to keep this country, and today we need this law to face foreign plots ... you have Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel who want to control Lebanon and without Christians’ rights, Lebanon will become another Islamic country for Israel to manipulate.”
Charbel Khalil, 24, described the proposal as the best and most suitable law to guide elections in Lebanon. “It’s an amazing law despite being a sectarian one,” he remarked.
“I am a supporter of the Free Patriotic Movement and maybe this law hurts them the most, but still, it returns the rights of Lebanese Christians,” said Khalil, an electrician from Harajel, Kesrouan.
“Even if we have this year’s elections without this law, politics in Lebanon will continue to remain sectarian,” he said.
“It would be a great achievement if we approve this law in Parliament, but I think all this is a play and they will vote against it.”
In Ashrafieh, Christians voiced their support for the adoption of Orthodox law, with most saying that it should be given the chance of being evaluated in elections at least once.
Nada Khoury, who only recently heard about the legislation, was among those who said politicians should give the law a go.
“Change is better than nothing. In the past elections, we have been voting for specific leaders and parties, maybe with this law we will choose individuals,” she said.
Haig, who declined to give his last name, said “it is definitely not a long-term solution, but this is the only law that has brought Christians closer to each other.”
“It simply encourages sectarianism which we are hoping to move away from, but on the other hand it is advantageous to Christians and their presence in Lebanon.”
The 26-year-old said regional developments and the emergence of Sunni-Shiite tensions have made such a law necessary.
“This law will protect the existence of Christians and promote their unity,” said Haig, a supporter of the prominent Armenian Tashnag Party.
He said he believed the law was likely to be adopted for this year’s parliamentary elections.
“It will give [Christians] a chance to grab an opportunity, elect a new Parliament and then discuss the final form of the electoral law,” he added.
George Dakkash, a businessman, said the law should be adopted to end the ongoing prejudice against Christians in the country.
“This is a great law; it would end Christians’ subordination to Muslim leaders,” he said.
“Apart from facing criticism from some politicians, it has a big chance of becoming the electoral law,” said Dakkash, an FPM supporter.
According to Dakkash, critics of the law are mainly politicians who feel that if the Orthodox law is adopted, they would not stand a chance in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“Only the politicians who feel that they would lose are criticizing the law,” he said.
Elie, a resident of Ashrafieh, is originally from Sidon and has not voted in elections for many years. “I haven’t voted there because my vote wouldn’t make a difference in Sidon,” he said.
“I am not a big fan of the March 14 or the March 8, but at least my vote would count under such a law.”