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05-07-2010, 09:29 AM
Lebanon: Hizbullah to boycott Beirut polls to avoid sectarian tensions



By Elias Sakr
BEIRUT, (Daily Star): Hizbullah will join its ally the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) in boycotting the municipal elections in Beirut, the party announced Wednesday, justifying its decision as a step to avoid sectarian tensions in the capital.

“Denying an essential faction representing the Sunni opposition its rights as well as the FPM its true representational size led to the obstruction of consensus in the capital,” a statement by Hizbullah’s press office said Wednesday.

“When the possibility of electoral competition between two lists emerged, with Hizbullah to participate in one of them against the Future Movement, provocative sectarian rhetoric emerged … which would turn the elections from their democratic aspect to sectarian conflict,” the statement added.

However, the FPM and Hizbullah’s decision to withdraw from the electoral battle did not prevent the Sunni opposition from forming an electoral list that was expected to be announced late Wednesday despite the slim odds of winning any of the 24 seats in the municipal council.

FPM leader Michel Aoun tied any agreement with the Future Movement in Beirut to the nomination of a Sunni candidate in the municipal council, a condition that was rejected by Premier Saad Hariri. The prime minister also insisted that Aoun negotiate his share of Christian candidates with March 14 Christian parties.

Hizbullah, which withdrew its candidate for Beirut municipal council, Hani Qassem, called on supporters to participate in the elections of the capital’s mukhtars in line with the FPM decision.

Commenting on Aoun’s boycott of Beirut’s municipal elections, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said Aoun chose not to join the “Beirut Unity” list thus isolating himself and his ally, a reference to Hizbullah.

“Given the circumstances and developments that preceded the municipal elections in Beirut and signs that several parties are exploiting the electoral competition to provoke dark sectarian tensions and in line with the decision of several of our allies to withdraw from participating in the polls, we decided to boycott the elections,” a statement by Hizbullah’s press office said Wednesday.

“Given the importance of the capital on the national level … and in line with the atmosphere of political consensus after the formation of a national unity Cabinet, we were keen as Hizbullah to form a consensual electoral list that represents all the capital’s factions,” the statement added.

In other developments, Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel stressed Wednesday the need for an electoral law that reflects the true representation of all factions through laws rather than understandings.

"Despite Premier Hariri’s commitment to parity between Christians and Muslims as well as efforts by the Future Movement to maintain balance, we look to achieve that through texts rather than spirits,” Gemayel said, a reference to the distribution of seats equally between Christians and Muslims in Beirut’s municipal council.

Following the Doha Accord in 2008, the capital’s electoral districts were reshaped to guarantee a Christian majority of voters in the capital’s first district. However, during municipal polls Beirut is considered a unified electoral district

Separately, President Michel Sleiman on Wednesday urged political parties to acknowledge the outcomes of the first round of elections in Mount Lebanon district regardless of the results.

“Polls should be an occasion of joy rather than a cause of dispute and exchange of accusations and all parties should join hands in order to promote developmental projects in villages and towns,” Sleiman said.

“Any statements about bribery and pressure in the elections should be dealt with by the judiciary while general prosecutors should take the necessary steps,” Sleiman added, while urging those who were making such statements to “submit petitions to judicial authorities.”

On Sunday, Aoun stopped short of directly accusing Sleiman of meddling in Jbeil elections, but claimed that “official pressure is tougher than any other pressure,” in reference to the tacit support by Sleiman to the March 14-backed list headed by the brother of Sleiman’s son-in-law Ziyad Hawat.

For his part, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud issued a memorandum on Wednesday calling on local authorities and security forces to strictly enforce laws regarding electoral advertising and to penalize any violations of the laws and refer those who break the laws to the concerned judiciary.

Sleiman also highlighted the democratic course of the electoral process that took place under a calm atmosphere.

Similarly, the Maronite Bishop Council praised the calm atmosphere that accompanied the municipal elections while voicing hope that the upcoming round of polls would take place under the same circumstances.