The country’s leading Shiite spiritual leader condemned the qada-based electoral district for the 2000 poll as a recipe for civil strife on Friday and threw in a rare public attack on the government’s administrative decentralization plan for good measure.
Sheikh Mohammed Mehdi Shamseddine, the head of the Higher Shiite Council, accused the government’s decentralization draft of “returning Lebanon to schemes of partition in the guise of decentralization.”
“It will return Lebanon to sectarian groupings: Shiite, Sunni, Maronite and Orthodox; Muslim and Christian. We don’t accept this administrative division, which serves a sect, a political class, or specific politicians,” Shamseddine said during his weekly sermon at the Imam Jaafar Sadeq Mosque in Shatila.
The decentralization draft, which was recently endorsed by the Cabinet, now awaits parliamentary debate.
It does away with qadas and governorates and replaces them “administrative districts” based on the current qadas, while subdividing three large qadas Akkar, Minyeh-Dinnieh and Baalbek into two districts each.
The cleric called for an “open national debate” about decentralization, countering repeated assertions by Interior Minister Michel Murr that the decentralization draft’s administrative divisions are in any way related to a carve-up of constituencies in 2000.
Vowing to discuss the election law “almost every week from now on, clearly and frankly,” Shamseddine said he rejected the qada-based electoral district, terming it a plan for “partitioning the country.”
But despite Shamseddine’s fiery attack, one political analyst noted that both the decentralization plan and a decision on the electoral law appeared “stalled for the time being,” particularly with mounting indications that President Emile Lahoud and the government were not enthusiastic about speeding up work on a draft law.
Moreover, the first and only committee discussion of the decentralization draft at Parliament last month provoked harsh criticism of the legislation by former Speaker Hussein Husseini and Batroun MP Butros Harb as deputies complained that the plan would effectively concentrate ministerial prerogatives in the Interior Ministry.
The analyst said that Husseini had received a promise from the government that the draft would be “frozen” until the grievances could be resolved.
Shamseddine’s comments, he continued, could be taken as a sign of the Shiite community’s general discontent with the draft, which by consolidating the qada as an administrative unit could only lead to a smoother path for adopting it as an electoral unit in 2000.
While Hizbullah’s stance on the electoral district is believed to involve no strong opposition to the qada the party feels confident about its performance in such a carve-up Amal strongly supports the governorate.
Nabatieh MP Yassin Jaber said Friday that Speaker Nabih Berri’s Development and Liberation bloc favored a single nationwide electoral district. “But if this isn’t possible, a law stipulating five governorates is the most suitable situation,” Jaber said.
Significantly, Chouf MP Marwan Hamade emphasized the link between administrative decentralization and the electoral district, saying that rather than the Murr draft’s 30 administrative districts based on qadas, a number of governorates ranging from seven to 13 was the intended result of Taif-stipulated administrative decentralization.
In a newspaper interview published Friday, Hamade said that Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc supported the governorate as the electoral district, “provided that the Taif-stipulated administration re-division is adhered to.”
Jumblatt’s bloc, he continued, called for adopting a mid-sized governorate. He said that this would provide a compromise between national cohesion, the slogan of defenders of the governorate, and sound representation, which proponents of the qada cite in their arguments for the small district.
The analyst said that despite Jumblatt’s public call for the qada, “he appears to be very much in favor of dividing Mount Lebanon into two southern Mount Lebanon and northern Mount Lebanon,” in line with Hamade’s call for between seven and 13 governorates.