BEIRUT: The U.S. and Russian ambassadors to Lebanon seem to have entered the Lebanese election fray by visiting rival political leaders and making conflicting statements on how the June 9 polls should be conducted.
In addition to their sharp split over the two-year bloody conflict in Syria, Washington and Moscow seem to be at loggerheads over the approach to the Lebanese elections, deemed crucial by the March 8 and March 14 parties because the vote outcome would determine who controls the majority in the next Parliament.
The Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin called Tuesday for the parliamentary elections to be held on time based on an inter-Lebanese consensus rather than on foreign directives.
His remarks appeared to be a response to U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly who said the day before that the elections should be held on time regardless of whether politicians reached a consensus on a new electoral law.
“We hope that the parliamentary elections in Lebanon will be held based on a consensus rather than on orders from abroad. The elections must serve stability and be held within a Lebanese democratic framework,” Zasypkin told reporters after holding talks with Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh in the northern village of Bneshaai.
Connelly’s comments were viewed by some politicians and media outlets affiliated with the March 8 coalition as a direct U.S. intervention in the Lebanese elections.
Asked whether his statement was a direct response to Connelly’s remarks, Zasypkin said: “We have a clear stance calling for noninterference in Lebanon’s internal affairs. We hope the other parties will follow the same policy. All details related to the parliamentary polls are an internal Lebanese affair.”
Zasypkin underlined the need for the elections to be held in “a consensual atmosphere.”
“As to what basis these elections will be held [on] and under what law and when, this can be done according to Lebanese laws and an agreement among the Lebanese themselves,” the Russian envoy said. He added that for foreign powers, Lebanon’s security and stability was the most important thing.
Zasypkin reiterated Moscow’s support for the Lebanese government’s disassociation policy with regard to Syria.
“We affirm Russia’s commitment to Lebanon’s sovereignty and unity. We support dissociating the country [from the Syrian conflict] and the measures taken by the Lebanese authorities, particularly the Army to maintain security and stability in Lebanon,” he said.
“We also support the banning of the arms smuggling and the infiltration of fighters in order to avert strife.”
Speaking to reporters after meeting Speaker Nabih Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence Monday, Connelly outlined the U.S. position calling for the elections to be held on time regardless of the voting system.
“If a new system cannot be agreed upon in the very near term, in our view, failure to achieve consensus on a new law does not mean parliamentary elections cannot be held on time,” Connelly said. “We encourage Lebanon to hold its elections on time.”
As part of her calls on Lebanese politicians to discuss the upcoming elections, Connelly met Tuesday with former President Amin Gemayel, the head of the Kataeb Party.
Connelly and Zasypkin’s comments came as the March 8 and March 14 parties remained unable to choose a new electoral law to govern the elections, raising the possibility of either delaying the polls or holding them on the basis of the 1960 law, which has been rejected by officials on both sides of the political spectrum.
In addition to the Lebanese elections, Zasypkin and Franjieh also discussed the crisis in Syria and the ongoing contacts to launch a political dialogue between the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and opposition groups seeking to topple his regime.
“Utmost priority should be given to halting the bloodshed in Syria and for the authorities and the opposition to sit at the negotiating table as stipulated by the Geneva statement,” said Zasypkin, whose country is a key ally of the Assad regime.
He added that the Syrian authorities were ready for dialogue with the opposition, “But there are contrary actions by radical forces which are seeking to thwart any attempt to stop the violence.”
The Russian envoy said although Moscow did not agree with the attitudes of the Syrian opposition groups, “we encourage them to get ready for dialogue with the Syrian authorities.”