BEIRUT: Future Movement’s electoral law proposal addresses the concerns of Muslims and Christians alike by establishing a senate in which Lebanese elect representatives from their sect, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Thursday.
The Future Movement leader also said he would be back in the country before the next elections scheduled in June, “God willing I will be back ... who else would lead the campaign?”
During his interview with Marcel Ghanem on LBCI, Hariri said his party has drafted an alternative electoral proposal based on a winner-takes-all system with small districts, rejecting the controversial electoral law by the Orthodox Gathering.
“The Orthodox Gathering divides Lebanon and this is why I am taking such a stance against it," Hariri, who has been out of the country for over a year, said.
“Christian and Muslim concerns and fair representation should not be addressed by dividing Lebanon into small sectarian groups. This law [the Orthodox Gathering proposal] is based on a divide-and-conquer system. It divides Lebanon and is not in line with the 2005 [events] or March 14 principles,” he said.
The proposal, supported by Hezbollah and the majority of Christian parties including some of Hariri’s allies, is based on proportionality with each sect electing its own MPs.
Hariri, MP Walid Jumblatt and President Michel Sleiman have rejected the draft law, arguing that such a voting system would strengthen sectarian divides and allow for the rise of extremists.
During his two-and-half-hour chat with LBCI, Hariri maintained that the elections should be held on time.
“Elections should be held on time [with an] electoral law based on small districts [using a majority system] that secures fair representation for all groups,” Hariri told Ghanem.
He added that his proposal addresses the concerns of Christians because it sees the establishment of a senate “representing all sects in Lebanon as stipulated in the Taif Accord, after amending the Constitution to suspend political sectarianism for a limited period of time.”
The senate should be elected on the same electoral principle as in the Orthodox Gathering’s draft law, he said.
However, Hariri also said the Future Movement was ready to discuss any electoral law to ensure elections are held on time.
"We are open and seeking to reach a result on a new electoral law so that elections could be held on time and Future Movement is ready to offer sacrifices but not at the expense of the country,” he said.
Discussions on a new electoral law for this year’s elections, particularly disagreements between Hariri’s party on one hand and Lebanese Forces and Kataeb Party on the other, have raised concerns over the future of the March 14 alliance.
The March 14 coalition would remain intact regardless of any disputes, Hariri said, particularly those related to electoral proposals.
"Whatever happens and whatever they try to do, there are national principles that the March 14 alliance rests upon and nothing can ever change that," he said.
Hariri explained his electoral proposal, saying it required some constitutional amendments.
He said it was necessary to resolve “the problem of development for all Lebanese sects by applying administrative decentralization.”
The former prime minster added that the Constitution should also include the Baabda Declaration, which stipulates that Lebanon should be distanced from all regional conflicts.
The declaration was adopted by rival parties in June of last year during a National Dialogue session primarily in order to protect Lebanon from the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria.
As for the upcoming elections campaign, Hariri said his party and the March 14 groups are betting on the “failure of this government” in running the country.
“If the Lebanese people are happy with those in government, then they should go ahead and vote for them,” he said, adding that he sought to continue his father’s legacy of development.
Asked what type of government his alliance would form in the event the opposition sweeps this year’s parliamentary elections, Hariri said he would extend his hands to his rivals but with conditions.
“We will extend our hand but no one should think that they will have veto power or a national unity government especially based on conditions that were set in the past," Hariri said, adding that he would not repeat the mistakes of the past.
In 2011, March 8 ministers resigned from Hariri’s national unity Cabinet, forcing its collapse. March 8 then became the majority with the backing of Jumblatt and named Prime Minister Najib Mikati to form a new government.
Hariri and his allies in the March 14 have repeatedly slammed Mikati’s government as run by Syrian President Bashar Assad, describing the events that lead to the latter’s appointment as “an armed coup.”
The Future Movement leader also opposed the adoption of the tripartite formula of the “Army, the people, and the resistance,” as the optimal means of defense against Israeli aggression – the argument put forward by Hezbollah.
He added that Hezbollah’s arms are the remaining item on the National Dialogue committee’s agenda, inviting the resistance group to join talks and resolve the ongoing issue.
“I ask Hezbollah to join us on the dialogue table with all seriousness for the sake of the Lebanese state and not for Saad Hariri’s interests,” he said.
But Hariri added that he has a personal issue with the group, given that four suspects allegedly involved in the assassination of his father in 2005 belong to Hezbollah.
“I have a personal problem with Hezbollah because the four men are suspected of killing my father,” he said.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has indicted four Hezbollah members of involvement in the 2005 car bombing. It has begun trials for the men in absentia after Lebanon failed to arrest them.
Hezbollah’s chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has said that he will never hand over the men.
On Syria, Hariri, who is a staunch critic of Assad, reiterated that the Syrian president should realize that killing his own people will not work and that he should step down.
“This regime will fall and it is a murderous regime … I tell Bashar Assad that if he had some brains, he would leave Syria to the Syrian people and I also tell him that killing will not benefit him at all,” he said.
Hariri also said he regretted the moment he visited Damascus and met Assad when he was prime minister in 2010.
“But I did it for Lebanon back then.”
On the heated debate over legalizing civil marriage in Lebanon, Hariri said he supported the legalizing of the practice. He also said the stance of Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani was unacceptable.
“Declaring those supporting civil marriage as infidels is forbidden. This approach and way to discuss civil marriage is unacceptable,” Hariri said.
“Personally, I hope that civil marriage is legalized but there should be an honest dialogue with regards to this issue.”
“I would not get married civilly or allow my children to do so but at the end of the day, I represent the Lebanese,” he said.
Earlier this week Qabbani said any Muslim official who supported civil marriage would not be considered Muslim.
“Every Muslim official, whether a deputy or a minister, who supports the legalization of civil marriage, even if it is optional, is an apostate and outside the Islamic religion,” Qabbani said in a religious edict, or fatwa, causing an uproar from civil society groups.
The former prime minister also spoke about his relationship with Jumblatt, describing it one based on brotherly ties rather than mere political alliances.
“Jumblatt is my friend and he will remain as so ... he was there following the assassination of [former Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri and he stood beside us as a family then and these moments are not to be forgotten,” Hariri said.
“There are things we differ on with Walid Jumblatt but that doesn’t mean that the alliance, the friendship or the brotherhood will be affected,” he added.
Prior to the interview, LBCI showed a clip of Hariri and Ghanem walking down Paris streets, where he admitted he was having financial issues but said he was overcoming them.
“I wish I could walk in the streets of Beirut as I do here in Paris,” he said.