Lebanon News

Harb: No unity Cabinet if we win polls

Harb: We are going through difficult times in Lebanon.

BEIRUT: March 14 will form a majority government, not a national unity Cabinet, if it wins enough seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections, according to March 14 MP Butros Harb. In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday, Harb told The Daily Star that the national unity governments formed by former Prime Ministers Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora “were not successful” and that given the opportunity, March 14 “will form a majority government and take responsibility for it.”

“I don’t believe in the idea of a national unity government,” Harb said. “I believe that in a democratic system, if there is a majority they should bear the responsibility for their actions. It is not right to form a government that represents everyone but has no harmony, and whose members do not agree on any program and spend hours fighting over every suggestion.”

The Batroun lawmaker stressed the importance of holding elections on time, saying that the electoral law needs to be amended to be more equitable for Christians, “by consensus.”

“I don’t believe it is in the interest of Muslims in Lebanon for Christians to feel marginalized, just like it was not in the interest of Christians for Muslims to be marginalized [in the past]. This is why we made the Taif agreement, but we don’t need another 200,000 to die [as they did in the Civil War] to come to another agreement,” Harb said.

Arguing that the 1960 electoral law, which was the basis for the last parliamentary elections, does not guarantee the equal representation for Christians and Muslims that the Taif agreement mandates, Harb suggested that in a new system districts should remain religiously mixed. “More weight should be given to Christian votes when electing Christian MPs, but this does not mean that Christians alone should elect only Christian MPs,” he said.

Harb added that a draft law is being prepared that would have 50 electoral districts, and “will guarantee Christian representation more than any other draft law being discussed.”

As for the presidential elections, Harb said that although he respects President Michel Sleiman and believes that “he is making every effort to do his job well,” renewing his term would be a negative move.

“To amend or violate the Constitution is dangerous,” he said.

Harb denied he has his eye on the presidency, given the existing power of the office. “I have no ambition to be president, especially one that is unable to affect change in Lebanon. If the situation remains the same, I will not run. However, if circumstances change and I get the opportunity to be president in an environment that would allow me to transform the current situation in Lebanon, then I will not hesitate.”

Harb praised Sleiman’s recent national defense strategy as a “step forward,” given that National Dialogue talks were “just going in circles without the national defense strategy as a point of discussion.”

The proposal is “an attempt by the president to suggest something that won’t be shot down by any group, it contains basic principles on limiting military decisions in Lebanon to legitimate power and other positive issues.”

He expressed reservations about the proposal, however, because it mentions the resistance as a distinct entity, Hezbollah. “We reject this because we do not believe that there is a specific group which is the resistance,” Harb said. “We consider the Lebanese people to be the resistance, and we do not want a resistance that is separate from the Lebanese people.”

Harb continued that this position should not be a surprise, given March 14’s rejection of the “people, Army and the resistance” formula of the current government.

It is Hezbollah that Harb blames for the July attempt on his life, which was thwarted when explosive detonators were found in the elevator of the building that houses his office. “There was a person who was wanted on suspicion of participating in the assassination attempt, and it was revealed that he is a Hezbollah member.”

“Hezbollah, however, refused to appear in front of the judiciary to give testimony, and this obstructed investigations,” Harb said, calling it a crime to obstruct justice but “more dangerous that the Lebanese government has been silent about the obstruction.”

Calling for the judiciary to refer the case to an administrative judge “despite Hezbollah’s stance,” the MP also discussed the other attempts on the lives of other politicians in Lebanon.

“I believe that the Syrian regime has made a decision to create strife in Lebanon in order to divert attention from events in Syria elsewhere, and to prove to the world that if the Syrian regime is disturbed, the entire region will be in chaos,” Harb said.

Although he declined to go into detail about why “assassinations are directed against a particular political group,” he cited a variety of possible explanations including upcoming elections and calculations about changes in Lebanon if the Syrian regime falls.

As for the recent alleged attempt on Free Patriotic Movement head Michel Aoun’s life, Harb said “we are opposed to any attack against any civilian or leader in Lebanon. Of course we want an investigation, and perhaps it will be proven that there was an assassination attempt or a shooting, because we did not see an assassination attempt. Three bullets were fired at armored vehicles in a decoy convoy.”

“But it might be a message,” he added, “and we would be against that. But if it is proven that there was no assassination attempt, we would condemn taking advantage of it.”

With the Syrian crisis in its 18th month, Harb said the regime of President Bashar Assad “is deteriorating and its fall is imminent, [but] no one can determine exactly when. It has become like a building whose foundations has collapsed, and it is unclear when it will fully cave in.”

From a “pragmatic” perspective, Harb said that the regime “that has blackmailed us, controlled us, and killed some of us – a change in this regime will be positive for Lebanon. If it stays, this is of course negative.”

But for now, he said “we deal with the Syrian crisis on the basis that there are neighboring people who are being slaughtered by a tyrant ruler whose only concern is to stay in power, even if it costs the blood of innocent people. The Syrian people are demanding their freedom, and based on this we support them without interfering in the ongoing conflict in Syria.”

“We are going through difficult times,” in Lebanon, Harb said. But he believes there is an “international will to not allow the destruction of Lebanon, especially since the Arab world and the Arab Spring needs an example of democracy ... I hope Lebanon will regain its position ... as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 28, 2012, on page 3.




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