BEIRUT: Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah proposed a new electoral law that he touted as optimal for the country while warning against sectarian clashes as a result of political rhetoric during a speech Wednesday.
He also said that Shiite Lebanese living in Syria have the right to defend themselves against rebel attacks, asking them to spare the lives of civilians.
Nasrallah’s remarks came during a televised speech he said was brought forward to counter rumors that he had recently been transferred to Iran for medical treatment and that Hezbollah figure Sheikh Naim Qassem had been killed by the Free Syrian Army.
“The proposal for Lebanon as one single district under proportional representation is a fair law that achieves equality, national assimilation, national unity and prevents the rise of extremists,” Nasrallah said.
"It does not divide the country based on the interests of parties, sects, movements, or families as some people are doing with other electoral proposals,” he added.
He also said that such a law if adopted would “force” sects and political parties to form alliances and that it would allow the rise of moderate voices and eradicate extremists.
Hezbollah’s proposal comes amid a hopeless deadlock over a new electoral law for the parliamentary polls scheduled in June as rival political parties struggle to reach a consensus on a single proposal.
Nasrallah, who described his proposal as an alternative to the controversial proposal by the Orthodox Gathering, also challenged the March 14 coalition, saying: “If the March 14 [alliance] believes that they have the majority and will win regardless then they should approve this law.”
Although the Orthodox law which mandates that each sect elect its own MPs have received the backing of most Christian parties as well as Hezbollah and Amal Movement, it has been staunchly rejected by the Future Movement, President Michel Sleiman and some Christian figures.
Opponents of the proposal argue that such a law would deepen the sectarian divide in the country and allow for the rise of extremists.
The lack of agreement over a new electoral law has raised doubts over the possibility of the elections being held on time, with rivals accusing each other of seeking to postpone the polls.
Nasrallah said his party was against the delay as he warned that foreign and local elements are pushing for the move.
“There is a lot of talk about delaying the polls and there are foreign and local forces pushing in the direction of postponement but no one has the courage to say it publicly,” he noted, defending against allegations that his party sought the delay.
"We do not suffer any financial or ethical crises, our alliances are clear and our situation is good. So why would we want to delay the elections?” he asked.
Indirectly accusing his rivals in the March 14 coalition of working to postpone the polls, Nasrallah said: “Our interest lies in holding them on time but whoever has financial issues and cracks in their alliances and has thought that the situation in Syria would have been over by the time elections are held is the one whose interest is in delaying the polls.”
March 14 figures have said that their disagreements over a new electoral law have affected their alliances while affirming that their coalition was formed on fundamental principles and remained intact.
“Anyone who wants to postpone elections should just publicly say so rather than work on doing so and accuse someone else of wanting it,” Nasrallah said.
The Hezbollah chief also warned against efforts to incite sectarian clashes particularly between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon, criticizing baseless accusations against his party’s involvement in several security incidents.
"There is someone pushing Lebanon in a swift manner into sectarian clashes and working day and night toward achieving this objective and a clash between Sunnis and Shiites," he said. “This destroys everyone, and ignites the country into flames and no one has an interest in that.”
He said rhetoric from some Sunni lawmakers and sheikhs is baseless and contributed to possible clashes.
“I think ... statements by some MPs and religious figures from the honorable Sunni community are taking an escalatory trend and that is very dangerous,” he said. “It also based on illusions that others build upon and present as facts while Hezbollah has nothing to do with it.”
He also denied allegations that Hezbollah was involved in the shooting of two Sunni sheikhs last year at an Army checkpoint, as well as the October assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan or the Arsal incident earlier this month which left two soldiers dead.
“These are dangerous allegations. Where do you think you’re taking the country [with such remarks]?” he said.
Without naming him, Nasrallah responded to Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir who recently said that Hezbollah members have moved into his area in order to attack him.
“There are thousands of Shiite families and voters in Sidon ... we have centers in Abra [where Assir’s mosque is] even before any mosque was built. We were there before,” Nasrallah said.
He said his party would not respond to insults or be dragged to retaliate on the ground.
“We are very, very keen on preventing confrontation but no one should miscalculate us,” Nasrallah warned.
Late last year, two of Assir's bodyguards were killed along with an Egyptian passerby during clashes with Hezbollah in the Taamir neighborhood of Sidon over a dispute regarding Hezbollah’s banners in the coastal city of Sidon. The fighting also left five other people wounded, among them a Hezbollah commander.
“We don’t want to attack anyone or take over anything. We are busy trying to remain prepared for what Israel is planning for Lebanon, the region and Palestine,” the Hezbollah leader said, adding that the government should be held responsible for the sectarian incitements.
Nasrallah touched on recent border clashes between the Free Syrian Army and members of Hezbollah, saying that Shiite Lebanese living in Syria have the right to defend themselves.
Three members of the resistance group and 12 Syrian rebels were killed two weeks ago during battles in the Syrian border town of Al-Qusair which is mainly inhibited by Shiite Lebanese.
“The Syrian opposition is the one who controlled [border] villages inhabited by Shiite Lebanese, forced their migration and burnt their houses and crops … those who remained armed and defended themselves, their houses, their fields,” Nasrallah said.
He added that the Lebanese have been living there for over 100 years before the demarcation of borders between Syria and Lebanon and so have the right to retaliate against attackers.
“They have the right to defend themselves, and whoever is killed [in these battles] is considered a martyr, but these people did not attack civilians,” he said.
“I tell everyone there that you have the legitimate right of self-defense … but the rest of civilians regardless of their sect and political stances are off limits,” Nasrallah said, criticizing the government for its inaction with regards to the issue.
He said the government failed to exert any political or diplomatic efforts to help 30,000 Lebanese living in Syria facing “sectarian cleansing” by appealing to countries who support the opposition including Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
Nasrallah did not comment on FSA claims that the party was shelling Syrian territory near Qusair, but urged Lebanese in the border town to agree to any truce in order to preserve their land.
As for the deteriorating security situation in Lebanon, which has been rocked by a spree of kidnappings, Nasrallah urged the government to do more in this regard.
“I ask the government to put in more efforts to end this situation … and lift political cover off any kidnapper but they should be detained and pursued anywhere in the country and no area in Lebanon is off limits for the Army and security forces,” he said.
Referring to rumors circulated by the media in recent days about his health and the killing of a top Hezbollah commander, Nasrallah said such reports were part of a media campaign against the party.
“The rumors that were promoted resulted in a negative atmosphere which prompted me to make this appearance,” he said.