Redistricting of Beirut threatens divisions


Redistricting of Beirut threatens divisions

04 February 2005


BEIRUT: Tripoli MP and Democratic Renewal Movement member Mosbah Ahdab, an
outspoken member of the opposition, said that the loyalists’ attempt to
correct Christian representation in the government by dividing Beirut’s
districts in such a way to hurt Sunni representation goes against national
unity and coexistence principles.

“I think it is a good thing we went back to the 1960 (electoral) law, but
the trick with this gerrymandering in Beirut concerning the first and third
district was very absurd,” Ahdab said in an interview last Monday.

Beirut’s first district, a Sunni enclave and a stronghold for former Premier
Rafik Hariri, consists of some 210,000 voters but will be represented by
only six MPs, while Beirut’s second district, comprising mostly of Shiites
and Armenians and numbering some 150,000 voters, will be home to nine MPs.

Ahdab said that Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh’s threats raised the
demographic issue from a sectarian point of view.

“This type of gerrymandering was not only meant to give loyalists four extra
MPs, but also to create disagreements between different factions in Lebanon,
including Sunnis, Shiites, Maronites and Orthodox,” he added.

Ahdab said that, as a Muslim, he always thought that Christians were
misrepresented in Lebanon, citing the alienation of former army General
Michel Aoun and the undermining of the Lebanese Forces in the North, a
reference to when Bsharri and Akkar were joined for electoral purposes
although the two areas are not geographically connected.

“However, I do not think the proper way to fix Christian misrepresentation
is by creating a problem in Beirut,” Ahdab said. “Although it is true they
are targeting Hariri’s leadership, they are in fact hurting an entire sect,
and that’s repeating the mistakes of the past.”

Ahdab further said that the loyalists’ attempts to create a gap between
Hariri and the opposition are bringing the two sides closer together.

“Hariri should, however, declare a clear position on this, which as of yet
he hasn’t,” he added.

Ahdab questioned Franjieh’s position saying that his comments were not
compatible with his ambitions of becoming president because they tend to
disregard the country’s institutions.

“Franjieh cannot threaten to change the law depending on how the opposition
acts on its alliances with Hariri,” he said. “We have a Cabinet and
Parliament that decide on these issues, and while some believe that Lebanon
has not been able to build institutions until now, why don’t they move and
let others try?”

Ahdab was responding to comments made last week by Information Minister Elie
Ferzli in agreement with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s recent claims that
Lebanon needs Syrian help to establish proper institutions.

Ahdab went on to say that the last minute meetings on electoral reforms at
Parliament House follow a long-standing tradition by loyalists to deprive
the opposition of an equal opportunity for representation.

“Parliamentary elections will take place between April and May, so if you
now want to start a process of discussing the perfect electoral law, when
will it finish?” Ahdab asked.

He agreed that talks on a new law are long overdue, but questioned the
timing. Ahdab believes that the qada draft electoral law will be passed in
Parliament “unless loyalists change their mind.”

As for lowering the voting age and introducing a quota for female
representatives, Ahdab said these proposals were but another “smokescreen.”

“Eighteen year olds should vote and it would not create an imbalance in
favor of Muslims, because someone who is 18 now, will be 21 and of the same
religion three years later,” Ahdab argued.

He added that as 18 is the age of responsibility in the eyes of the law,
they should have the right to decide whom they should be ruled by.

Ahdab denied claims that Christians are the ones opposed to the voting age
constitutional amendment.

“I think the real opposition is amongst loyalists. They have been managing
the elections for a long time by controlling the different groups, by mixing
and matching lists with known numbers of followings,” Ahdab said. “Sure
people are free to vote for whomever, but when you start to have more than
30 percent participation, loyalists start to lose the advantage.”

He said the 18-21 age bracket cannot be controlled and when asked to vote
they would be instantly interested and would start to read and watch the
news, and decide which candidates have the best solutions.

As for quotas, Ahdab supported the practise, “However, I have heard comments
that putting a quota is against democracy, and in a way it is discrimination
again male candidates, and there is some truth in that.”

Ahdab also said that Lebanon wants excellent terms with Syria, with whom it
shares a history, culture and heritage.

“But the existing situation is not ideal,” Ahdab said. He said many
agreements need to be implemented, and day to day interferences in domestic
affairs is no longer acceptable.

“It is a small country and there are no secrets to hide.”

Article originally published by The Daily Star 04-Feb-05