Antoine Ghattas Saab
Efforts to contain a wave of objections to the Orthodox Gathering’s draft electoral law have not managed to eliminate mounting doubts about whether elections will be held on time. Friday’s Bkirki meeting between Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Franjieh, and Kataeb Party head Amin Gemayel was the latest of these efforts.
A source told The Daily Star that in Friday’s dialogue about the various electoral options, Aoun was steadfast in his support for the Orthodox law, while the other leaders were less enthusiastic about the draft but also expressed no definitive objections.
The meeting comes in the context of continuous efforts by Rai and other Christian leaders to find a common denominator for polls despite their differences. The source said this should be seen in light of concerns about the role and fate of Christians in Lebanon, a presence many believe is in danger as a result of the “Arab Spring.”
The source added that Rai believes the Bkirki committee on electoral law made some accomplishments the patriarch can build on, either to create a fair and balanced electoral law or at least to break the ice between rival Maronite leaders.
Friday’s dialogue was fruitful, sources said, with all sides agreeing the 1960 law is not a viable option. A follow-up committee may be formed to continue on the path the leaders began, and sources noted that the fact that leaders did not issue a common statement after the talks is not a sign of disagreement.
According to the sources, Rai is keen to respect the stances of President Michel Sleiman toward the Orthodox draft, and his concern that it could be a step toward dismantling Lebanon into sectarian parts.
Although Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea was not present at the discussion, sources cautioned that his absence should not be misinterpreted. The fact that the date and time of the meeting were publicized in the media meant the security risks of his attendance were simply too high.
March 14 sources added that Gemayel’s presence was sufficient, given that his views and interests tend to converge with those of the Lebanese Forces leader.