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Aoun warns security in north not favorable to holding polls in 2013

FPM leader Michel Aoun speaks during a press conference in Rabieh, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. (The Daily Star/Charbel Nakhoul, HO)

BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun warned Thursday that the security situation in northern Lebanon – the scene of Syria’s violations of the Lebanese border and armed clashes between pro- and anti-Assad supporters – did not allow holding next year’s parliamentary elections in the country.

In an interview with LBCI TV, Aoun also lashed out at an electoral proposal presented by the March 14 Christian parties that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system. He said the proposal was designed to ensure victory for the March 14 coalition in the 2013 elections.

Referring to the ongoing debate over a new election law by rival political parties, Aoun said: “We want a law that gives the Christians the largest number of deputies. This means releasing the Christian [parliamentary] seats; not necessarily for us, they could be for the Lebanese Forces. I am against a winner-takes-all system. I reject this system.”

“There is a problem in the election law. If security conditions do not allow holding elections, [that] is one thing, and if [no agreement] is reached on an election law, [that] is another,” Aoun said, adding: “So far, the [security] situation in Akkar and Tripoli does not allow holding elections.”

The FPM leader was referring to a string of deadly security incidents along the Lebanese-Syrian border in recent months, which resulted in the injuries and deaths of several Lebanese by Syrian artillery and gunfire. Also, armed supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad have frequently clashed in the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood and the rival Jabal Mohsen district in Tripoli.

The Maronite Church and leading Christian parties have strongly rejected the 1960 election law, which adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all system. They complained that a large number of 64 Christian MPs in the 128-member Parliament were elected by Muslim voters under the 1960 law, which was used in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

Referring to the small district proposal, Aoun said: “The 50 district [draft] law is ugly. It [calls] for political districts rather than sectarian districts. It is divided to ensure victory for the March 14 parties.”

Aoun’s ’s remarks came amid deep differences between the March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc over which legislation best guarantees fair representation for all the parties in the 2013 elections.

MPs from the joint parliamentary committees have failed in five sessions to bridge the wide gap between the rival factions over a new election law.

The committees are mulling over three proposals: The government’s draft electoral law which would divide Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts based on a system of proportional representation; the March 14 proposal that would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all-system; and a draft law forwarded by Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, whereby every sect elects its own MPs, under a proportional representation system and with the adoption of Lebanon as a single district. This draft law is similar to a proposal made by the Orthodox Gathering.

The government’s draft law has been rejected outright by the parliamentary Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and its Christian March 14 allies, which argued that the law was designed to serve Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.

During the interview, Aoun defended the drone sent by Hezbollah to Israel, saying it was in response to daily Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty.

“There is a permanent [Israeli] attack on us. This was the first time we respond to this attack through a pilotless plane sent by Hezbollah,” he said. “What will you consider the Israeli warplanes that attack our territory and fly over our airspace daily?”

“Hezbollah’s action was a reaction to repeated Israeli attacks on Lebanese territories,” added Aoun, a key ally of Hezbollah.

In a televised speech on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah confirmed Thursday that his group was behind the drone that Israel shot down over the weekend and warned that the operation would not be the party’s last.

Asked to comment on Hezbollah’s alleged involvement in the 19-month-old bloody conflict in Syria, Aoun said he supported the government’s disassociation policy on the developments next door.

But after hearing Nasrallah’s denial of sending Hezbollah fighters to fight alongside government troops in Syria, Aoun said he could not comment on the issue.

Referring to Syria’s repeated violations of Lebanese territory, Aoun called for the deployment of the Lebanese Army on the border with Syria. “We cannot disassociate ourselves from the chaos of armament and gunmen moving around in Arsal and the Bekaa,” he said.

Aoun spoke of a state of “insecurity” in the northeastern town of Arsal and the Bekaa, where Syrians, including anti-regime activists, who fled the fighting in their home country, have taken shelter.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 12, 2012, on page 3.

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