BEIRUT: Candidates backed by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt are expected to win a majority of seats in the Druze Spiritual Council elections Sunday, following the withdrawal of Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan from the contest.
Arslan announced his exit in August as talks to reach a consensus on the distribution of seats with the PSP hit a dead end over a dispute on the status of Sheikh Nasreddine al-Gharib, whom Arslan supporters have proclaimed the Druze Spiritual leader.
Salim Hamade, Arslan’s media adviser, said that the PSP had proposed that Arslan’s supporters have 40 percent of the seats in the council in return for delaying discussing the status of Gharib.
“But if we enter, then we will be accepting the law [of the council], which [stipulates] that there is only one sheikh,” he told The Daily Star.
“How can we solve the situation of Sheikh Gharib then? ... We do not find a solution without Sheikh Gharib in,” Hamade added.
Members of the council, and its head, Druze Spiritual leader Naim Hasan, were elected in 2006 according to a law organizing the affairs of the Druze sect, which was passed earlier that year.
The council, whose six-year term has expired, comprises around 100 members including religious figures, representatives of self-employed professions and district representatives. Druze lawmakers and ministers automatically become members of the council. The council administers the sect’s non-religious, social and financial affairs.
Arslan, whose supporters also boycotted the polls in 2006, proclaimed Gharib as Druze spiritual leader, while Jumblatt’s supporters maintain that Hasan is the spiritual leader. Jumblatt enjoys the strongest support among the Druze community.
“The law of the Druze Council was undertaken in 2006 without any prior consultation with all parties available in the [ ...] region ... [this] pushed us not to participate in the polls,” he said.
Hamade said the same reasons pushed the LDP to boycott the polls again. “We were hoping that some change would take place, but we did not receive any intention to do so on behalf of the Progressive Socialist Party.”
Hamade acknowledged that according to the law, Hasan is the spiritual leader.
“It was the decision of people [to choose Gharib] and not the law, but is any law ideal?” he asked.
Media reports said that Arslan had proposed that Gharib be appointed as vice president of the Druze Spiritual Council or that he serves half of the 15-year-term Hasan was elected to in 2006, as a way to reach consensus on the distribution of seats in the council.
But Hamade said that no “serious” suggestion was discussed, adding that most of the suggestions were made by the PSP rather than the LDP.
While agreeing that there is no ideal law, a PSP source rejected having two religious figures as the head of the Druze sect.
“It is not possible to consecrate a religious duality by giving a certain post to Gharib,” the source told The Daily Star.
“Maybe there is a need for diversity on the political level but not for a religious duality.”
He also denied that the PSP had made an offer to give Arslan’s supporters 40 percent of the council’s seats. “We did not go into the allocation of shares because the law allows everybody to run for elections,” he said.
The source added that in 2006, the PSP had not entered into negotiations either. “We knew that the democratic process determines the size of all groups, we joined [the race] in 2006 based on this and that’s what we are doing Sunday.
Hamade said that the dispute with Jumblatt would not affect the agreement with him on preserving stability in Chouf, which was reached following the violent events of May 2008.
“We look for the best relations with Walid Jumblatt ... We don’t see this will impact our relations with the Progressive Socialist Party.”
Meanwhile, head of the Arab Tawhid Party Wi’am Wahhab, a rival of Arslan and Jumblatt, said that his supporters would take part in elections. Wahhab could not be reached by The Daily Star.