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U.S. supports status quo in Lebanon: Karam
Karam is a proponent of expatriate voting. (The Daily Star/ Van Meguerditchian)
Karam is a proponent of expatriate voting. (The Daily Star/ Van Meguerditchian)
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KFAR SAROUN, Lebanon: The United States wants to maintain the political status quo in Lebanon to preserve stability in the face of ongoing unrest in Syria, Koura MP Fadi Karam said Tuesday, a week after his visit to Washington, D.C.

“While the Americans voiced their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, they want to maintain the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati because they see its policy of disassociation as a sound and practical policy,” said Karam.

In Washington, Karam met with the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, Steve Chabot, in addition to several national security advisers of President Barack Obama.

In an interview with The Daily Star at his office in the Koura town of Kfar Saroun, Karam described his recent two-week visit to the U.S. as “very successful” given the support of the American officials for Lebanon’s stability.

“American officials reiterated their support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability and its policy of disassociation from the developments in Syria ... They also believe that the disassociation policy is a good policy that would keep us away from the regional bickering.”

Karam also met with expatriates during a convention of the Lebanese Forces of North America in New Jersey ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.

He said that there would be no return to the 1960 electoral law, under which 2009 parliamentary elections were held, because it is not in the interest of Christians or the country.

“We are done with the 1960 electoral law,” says Karam, adding that all other proposals for an electoral law are better than the existing one.

“We will not allow any return to the 1960 law because we reached an understanding with other Christian parties in Bkirki that it is not in the interest of Christians and Lebanon to go back to the 1960 law.”

The 1960 law, which was adopted by rival Lebanese political leaders in Doha back in 2008, adopts the qada as the electorate district and is based on a winner-takes-all system.

Only the Progressive Socialist Party has so far openly called for maintaining the 1960 law. Parties in the March 14 and March 8 camps have come out against the law, proposing radically different alternatives.

“The Lebanese Forces is committed to an electoral law based on 50 small districts ... But if we fail to win a majority vote on this law we will accept a proportional representation law but based on our conditions and not as agreed by the government,” Karam said.

Last month, several Christian MPs from the March 14 coalition submitted an electoral proposal to Parliament that calls for 50 small districts under a majoritarian system. Karam’s rivals in Parliament have criticized the proposal, describing it as divisive.

“In the end there will be a proposal that will win the majority vote in Parliament but if we are heading toward an electoral law based on a proportional representation, we have to discuss it more in details because there is a lot to be clarified about this law.”

According to Karam, the government’s proposal, which calls for proportional representation and 13 electoral districts, won’t work. “In its current shape, the government’s proposal is unjust and illogical ... We will present our conditions that are more just and representative.

“If we do reach an agreement on an electoral law, it will be one that only guarantees a democratic election and not any coalition’s victory over the other,” he added.

Karam also said that the Orthodox Gathering’s proposal, which would allow every sect to elect its own MPs, was not welcomed by the majority of the Lebanese political figures.

“We visited many politicians to talk about the Orthodox Gathering proposal, but even our allies rejected this law. That is why we didn’t want to propose it to the Parliament.”

A strong proponent of expatriate voting, Karam said that he saw a lot of enthusiasm among the Lebanese American community during his visit to New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

“I was surprised how excited the Lebanese expatriates are to participate in the 2013 parliamentary elections. They are upset that the Foreign Ministry is insisting on removing them from the registered voters list in Lebanon for voting from abroad,” said Karam.

Whether voter registration in embassies and consulates abroad would require the removal of those registered from voters’ lists in their hometowns in Lebanon has become a topic of dispute between the opposition and the government.

Karam believes that the Foreign Ministry is standing in the way of expatriate voting for political reasons. “The Foreign Affairs Ministry wants to place obstacles in the face of expatriates to discourage them from taking part in the parliamentary elections because they know that they strongly support the March 14 coalition.

“Even if the embassies and consulates do not open their doors for expatriate voting, I think Lebanese would travel to Lebanon to vote.”

Karam, 51, who hails from the Koura town of Amioun, defeated Syrian Socialist Party candidate Walid al-Azar in a contested by-elections in July to fill the vacant seat of late MP Farid Habib.

With less than one year left of his tenure as an MP, he said he is working to bring development to Koura. “People in Koura like to depend on themselves and what I am trying to do as a Parliament member is to demand on their behalf and bring development.

“I want to show my voters in this short period of time that I am not only a politician but a person who works for development,” he added.

“We have already opened an office to provide the necessary services to the people in Koura and our visitors are from all political affiliations, not only from March 14.”

One of the most important things for people in Koura is to find a market for its olive oil, according to Karam. “Right after my election, I formed a group to work on marketing Koura’s olive oil and to find the necessary tradesmen that would export it to the U.S. and Europe.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2012, on page 3.
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