MAARAB, Lebanon: The Lebanese Forces marked a major milestone in the evolution of the group from a wartime Christian militia to an organized political party Friday with the launch of its membership drive, opening registration to the party base for the first time.
“We all want a strong state, and there is no strong state without strong politics, and there is no strong politics without strong parties,” LF leader Samir Geagea told a room of journalists and political figures during a news conference at the party’s headquarters in Maarab, Kesrouan.
“Starting now, we will build a strong party in order to build a strong state, a strong party whose first priority is absolute sovereignty, strong institutions and strong leaders, a party for 100 years in the future, a party that shoulders the problems of our society and realizes our dreams and the goals of the new generation,” he said.
Like many political groups in Lebanon, the LF enjoys broad support among its overwhelmingly Christian base and operates a powerful patronage network, but its actual registered membership is limited to the “about a hundred” figures who make up the party’s constitutional committee, former LF minister Tony Karam estimated.
“For the continuity of the party and for the future, if you want something to last, you should grow a solid base,” Karam, who now serves as head of the party’s new central membership committee, told The Daily Star.
Karam went on to say that launching a registration drive will pave the way for internal elections to select the party leadership, creating a democratic organization defined by principles and political vision.
“The Lebanese Forces was first created as a military organization; that was a necessity, and now ... we are completing the shift from an armed or military organization to a full-scale political party,” he said.
In his speech, Geagea made a particular effort to reach out to women, speaking of the LF’s history of inclusion and gender equality since its inception and calling on his female support base to do right by their children and join the party.
He also affirmed the LF’s loyalty to the March 14 coalition, led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, but made clear that the interests of his Christian base supersede any secondary alliances.
“We are truly a party of the cause, the cause of Lebanon which has been embodied over the last seven years in March 14 and in the Cedar Revolution – we are a March 14 party,” he stressed.
“We are children of the Cedar Revolution, but this absolutely does not mean we erase ourselves from the geography [of Lebanon],” he continued, referring to negotiations over a new electoral law proposal that have split March 14.
The Future Movement and independent Christian figures have objected to the Orthodox Gathering proposal championed by the LF and other Christian groups such as the Kataeb Party, Marada Movement and Free Patriotic Movement.
The proposal, which sparked a wide backlash when it was approved by Parliament’s Joint Committees earlier this week, would erase electoral districts in favor of a nationwide, proportional representation system, but with voters restricted to electing MPs from their own sect.
Geagea defended his party against accusations of sectarianism for supporting the Orthodox proposal, while appearing to leave the door open for an alternative solution.
“We want a new electoral law because the country needs a new electoral law, not because the Christians want to take revenge for the past!” he emphasized. “We have two goals in working toward an electoral law: The first is to arrive at a new electoral law, the second is to reach a consensus ... we support consensus, as long as it leads to a new electoral law.”