MAARAB, Lebanon: A “technical delay” in the upcoming parliamentary elections is expected to be adopted among rival political groups, according to Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, although he warned the postponement should not drag on for long.
Geagea played down the presence of Islamist extremists in the country and lamented Hezbollah’s interference in the Syrian war, saying their involvement would come at a price.
“Everyone agrees that a technical delay in the elections for a month or two would not be a problem, as much as they agree that a political delay [attributed to political reasons] would be a major problem,” Geagea told The Daily Star from his Maarab residence in Kesrouan.
The likelihood that the June 9 polls will be delayed has increased due to the lack of consensus in Parliament over a new electoral law to replace the amended 1960 legislation that governed the 2009 parliamentary elections.
Geagea, who strongly opposes holding elections based on the 1960 law, stressed that a possible delay would be provisional and would allow political rivals to reach common ground over a new voting system.
Geagea said that an agreement on a hybrid formula that combines proportional representation with a winner-takes-all system to govern the upcoming elections was almost ready and emphasized that the aim of reaching a consensus on a new electoral law was not far-fetched.
“We have reached a mutual agreement for a hybrid formula with our allies in the March 14 coalition and [Speaker] Nabih Berri,” said Geagea. “There is still one point to be discussed, related to the division of electoral districts.”
Geagea said the Future Movement was presently negotiating with MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party to iron out the details of the law.
“Since the stances have come so close, nothing should prevent [the rival political parties from] reaching a new electoral law,” he said.
Although optimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement for a new voting system, Geagea cautioned that the country was not yet done with the 1960 law or the controversial Orthodox Gathering proposal that had served to widen the political gap.
The Orthodox proposal, which projects Lebanon as a single district and allows each sect to elect its own representatives based on a proportional representation system, was recently approved by the parliamentary joint committees after it won votes from the LF, the Kataeb and the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.
Tensions arose in the March 14 camp after two Christian parties sided with the proposal, contradicting the stance of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement.
According to Geagea, voting for the Orthodox proposal was a way to prompt more serious efforts to reach a new electoral law and collectively reject the 1960 law, which both Hariri and Jumblatt favor. “We need a new electoral law ... the Orthodox proposal was the only law that could secure the majority of votes in the joint committees,” said Geagea. “Voting for the Orthodox proposal was a compulsory track to arrive at a new electoral law.”
Describing the Cabinet’s performance as a “disaster,” Geagea said that reaching a new law would be a major step forward in leading the country out of its political stalemate.
“The Cabinet is doing everything it should not be doing and vice versa, it is not doing what it should do and this has started to affect the coming elections.”
“Arriving at a new electoral law [would] lead to a general breakthrough in the country. We will then be able to form a technocratic Cabinet to oversee the polls and move the country into a new political stage.”
He called on all political parties to “seriously” assume their responsibilities and boost efforts to reach a new voting system.
He also warned against linking the elections to developments in Syria: “The regime in Syria will fall, this is evident for me. But who knows, it could take months or even a year to be brought down and it is futile to wait” for this.
Speaking on the eve of March 14’s eighth anniversary, Geagea said the political alliances that constitute the coalition were “natural,” and that the coalition would persist based on the mutual principles it originally formed around.
“March 14 is a movement allied by nature because all its components have a unified vision of Lebanon. We cannot but be together,” he said.
Geagea denied claims that conflicts with the Future Movement with respect to the electoral law had affected the political alliance between the two groups.
“I do not think the different stances regarding the electoral law needed all this fuss. Everyone could have expressed his stance regarding the electoral proposals,” he said. “This conflict did not change our policy or position.”
The LF leader, one of the most popular Christian figures in the country, downplayed the danger of Islamists in both Lebanon and the region and called on moderates to unite and confront extremists and their radical movements.
He said there was an Iranian plot to exaggerate the danger posed by Islamists in the Middle East.
“Some try to picture every Sunni as a fundamentalist ... This is the main objective of the Iranians,” said Geagea, an advocate of the so-called Arab Spring.
“This requires us to form an alliance of moderates in the face of some extremists,” he added.
He said that he did not think dangerous jihadists were present in Lebanon and called on security bodies to deal with such threats resolutely if they materialize.
“I do not have any information about the presence of jihadists in Lebanon. If present, jihadists cannot be hidden, they immediately express themselves through outrageous and unacceptable acts,” said Geagea.
“The interior and defense ministers keep telling us about such threats, but they should be facing them firmly and not talking about them.”
He also said the security situation in the country remained stable.
“Up to now, I still do not see major security breakdowns in Lebanon. What we have are scattered security incidents,” he said.
The LF leader, a strong opponent of the Assad regime, described the policy of the United States toward the Syrian crisis as “ambiguous” and said the U.S. could be using Syria as a battleground to weaken Hezbollah and Iran.
“The only explanation for the U.S. inaction regarding the Syrian bloodshed is that it is using Syria as a ‘killing ground’ for Iran and Hezbollah to exhaust them,” said Geagea.
He also lamented Hezbollah’s interference in Syria and said the party had placed itself at a point of no return.
“Hezbollah is becoming exhausted in Syria. The party has placed itself in a position where it can no longer distance itself from events in Syria,” Geagea said. “When the regime falls, Hezbollah will pay a very heavy price.”