Lebanese Politician Ja’ja Interviewed On Al-Matn By-Elections


Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai
9 Aug 07

Al-Arabiya Television at 1910 gmt on 9 August carries a new live
48-minute episode of its weekly "In Plain Arabic" programme, featuring
an interview with Dr Samir Ja’ja, head of the Lebanese Forces’
executive committee, via satellite from his premises in Kisirwan,
Lebanon, conducted by Giselle Khuri. The topic of discussion is the
position of Lebanon’s Christians, particularly the Maronites, towards
Lebanon as a homeland and state, following the world community’s
isolation of the Lebanese Maronite president, and the division of
the forces and leaderships of this sect into supporters and opposition.

Khuri begins by saying that Ja’ja is a controversial personality,
because he is either much loved or hated by his supporters and
opponents. Khuri asks Ja’ja to confirm whether this is true. Ja’ja
says that he is like any other politician, explaining that he passed
through significant Lebanese events and was in direct confrontation
with Syria, and that is why he has supporters and enemies.

Khuri notes that she went through several security checkpoints
to be able to reach his office, and asks whether his life is
threatened. Ja’ja says that he is threatened in the same way as other
Lebanese leaders and individuals, emphasizing that several incidents
occurred that resulted in the death of many Lebanese individuals. He
adds: "I am threatened within the threats posed to the entire Lebanese
situation." He says that he recently received two threatening letters
similar to the one received by the late Jubran Tuwayni.

Asked to confirm the reports on his being the only winner in the
Al-Matn by-elections by deliberately supporting Al-Jumayyil against
Awn and remaining out of the game, Ja’ja says that "this looks as
if we are behind the killing of Pierre al-Jumayyil in order for the
by-elections to be held, and as if we convinced Michel Awn and Amin
al-Jumayyil to nominate themselves for this battle," confirming that
the reports are untrue. Asked to confirm whether he will nominate
himself for the Lebanese president’s post, Ja’ja says no, he will
not. Khuri asks him to name the 14 March forces’ candidate for this
post, Ja’ja says that this person will be selected during the last
five minutes before the actual elections.

Khuri refers to some local newspapers that are calling on the 14
March forces to name their candidate for the president’s post now
rather than waiting until the last minute, and asks Ja’ja to comment
on this. Ja’ja says: "I am personally against naming our candidate
now, despite my full support for the holding of the presidential
elections." He explains that these elections are crucial and require
organized work. Khuri notes that this has been the case for the entire
past year and that it is high time now for the 14 March forces to name
their candidate. Ja’ja says that they will select their candidate
at the most appropriate time, based on "the course of events of the
electoral battle."

Khuri refers to a recent article in Al-Hayat newspaper in which it
notes that the Maronite patriarchal authority has ruled out the
participation of military figures in the presidential elections,
and asks Ja’ja for his position on this issue. Ja’ja says that he
has felt that the Maronite authority supports an amendment to the
Constitution concerning the presidential elections, and reiterates
that "he is against amending the Constitution each time there are
presidential elections." He adds: "We have no veto against anybody
and we are not against any particular group of people, regardless of
whether or not they are military. This is a free battle, and we are
keeping all the necessary manoeuvres and options to ourselves so that
when the appropriate moment comes to elect the suitable president,
we will use them."

Khuri notes that the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies has named
Butrus Harb, a prominent figure of the 14 March Forces, to be
elected president, and asks Ja’ja why these forces do not nominate
their own. Ja’ja explains that electing a president by consensus
requires changing the system of the three major Lebanese authorities
from sectarian to a system that is based on consensus. He says:
"We support any proposal as long as this proposal is applied to all
authorities. If they opt for a consensus, everything should be treated
according to consensus, and it they opt for electoral competition,
we will agree to competition."

Asked to verify whether the consensus will take place within
sectarian or political forces, Ja’ja says: "What happened in the
case of the Prime Ministry and the Chamber of Deputies is that a
consensus was reached by the same sect on each nominee for each post
and the other sects honoured their selection. What I am suggesting
here is to apply the same principle; that is, all Christian sects
should reach a consensus on the person to be president and the others
should honour the selection." Khuri asks whether this means that it
is only the Christians who have the right to elect the president,
Ja’ja says that his party supports this principle.

Khuri notes that this principle will give a push to General Awn as a
presidential candidate, and asks Ja’ja his opinion. Ja’ja says that
Awn is a very strong candidate for the presidency, but there are
others who are as strong as he is, giving the Al-Matn by-elections as
an example to prove that the results have shown that 50 per cent of
the Christians there support Awn and the other 50 per cent support
the 14 March Forces. He adds that this situation requires that
"we sit together to discuss and reach an agreement on a particular
person." Asked whether this agreement will include all Christians or
the Maronites only, Ja’ja says that it will include all the Christians.

Khuri refers again to a report in Al-Hayat quoting the Lebanese
president as saying that he will turn the presidency over to the
Lebanese Army in the event nobody is elected president by the end of
his term as president. In response, Ja’ja says that President Lahhud
is behaving without any legal status and has frequently said that he
will turn over the presidency to a certain party, reiterating that he
has no right to do so according to the Constitution. He wonders why
some sides are assuming that presidential elections will not be held,
and says that "this means that some parties are planning to hamper
the holding of these elections," reiterating that he is against any
type of "coup" against the Constitution.

Khuri asks Ja’ja to explain what the 14 March forces would do if the
Lebanese Army carried out a coup. Ja’ja says that the army will never
carry out a coup, as its past history witnesses this fact, reiterating
that "the Lebanese Forces will stand against any coup attempt." Asked
what they would do if the 8 March forces were to carry out a coup,
Ja’ja says that they would also stand against it, reiterating that
"it is better that we continue to work together through democracy."

Khuri notes that there have been several initiatives, including the
Saudi one, which call for the simultaneous holding of presidential
elections and forming of a national unity government, and asks Ja’ja’
his opinion, particularly in the light of some names that were selected
by consensus to fill the two posts. Ja’ja wonders how some are still
talking about the formation of a national unity government when
the presidential elections are less than two months away, and says
that "normally, after the election of a new president, the current
government resigns and makes way for the formation of another one."

Asked what is the role of the Church in this issue, Ja’ja says that
"the Church plays a major role in this regard at all stages,"
explaining that it does not handle minor issues, such as names
of nominees, but has concerns over "Lebanese democracy and the
constitutional institutions to remain functioning." He adds that "the
role of the Church at present is to encourage all factions to adhere to
the democratic, constitutional, and parliamentary game." Asked to name
the main player in these elections, Ja’ja’ declines to give any name.

Khuri asks Ja’ja whether regional and international forces will have
candidates to support in the presidential elections, Ja’ja says that
even if there are such candidates, their small number will not affect
the election results, emphasizing that "those who can influence the
results are the internal Lebanese factions and effective political
forces, regardless of foreign interference." Asked which party is
the strongest faction in the Lebanese arena, Ja’ja says: "Definitely,
it is the 14 March forces."

Asked about Nabih Birri’s stand, Ja’ja says that he has good
intentions, but these intentions are not turned into realities on
the ground.

Asked whether Hezbollah does not want to have a new president,
Ja’ja’ says that "they want a president, provided that he follows
their policies, like President Lahhud." Asked whether Hezbollah will
nominate General Awn for the presidency, Ja’ja’ rules out this idea.

Khuri asks Ja’ja to comment on a newspaper article which says that
Syria is utilizing Awn’s candidacy in order to use it as a bargaining
chip against another. Ja’ja’ confirms that this is true.

Khuri notes that the Al-Matn by-elections have shown that the
political approach was not national as much as it was a sectarian
and more precisely, "tribal" or family-based one, and asks Ja’ja
his opinion. Ja’ja says that such an approach is normal in every
society, citing the example of the 2004 US presidential elections,
explaining how both candidates utilized everything in order to win. He
says that the by-elections revealed who represents the Christians in
Lebanon. Khuri interrupts to note that this is why the approach did
not address Lebanon as a homeland, but rather addressed sectarian
interests. Ja’ja says that this could be true because the elections
were secondary and were held in a limited area that is inhabited
by Christians, but reiterates that "both our candidate and that
of the 8 March forces were saying from the beginning that these
by-elections were a real political battle." He notes that the battle
was a confrontation between two candidates, one representing the
Syrian-Iranian axis and the other representing the US-French axis.

Asked whether the by-elections have resulted in discriminating against
the Lebanese Armenians, Ja’ja categorically denies such a thing has
taken place.

Asked to confirm whether each Christian team supported either the
Lebanese Shi’is or Sunnis to impose some type of sectarian balance
in the country, thus, touching on the main problem that Lebanon
is currently facing, Ja’ja says that he is completely against this
assumption, and explains that "the 14 March and 8 March Christian
forces did not go after any of the other two sects, but rather followed
their own interests." He confirms that it was interests and nothing
else that brought the Christian teams closer to this sect or that.

Asked to explain whether Syria is still strong in Lebanon, and what
it wants now, Ja’ja says: "Syria wants to regain its influence
in Lebanon to the level it was during the period of 1975 -2005,
particularly from 1990 -2005, in terms of regaining its full control
of the Lebanese state; that is, running the affairs of Lebanon’s
foreign policy and general strategy and leaving a small window of
freedom for the Lebanese to manage some development, environmental,
and economic issues in conformance with Syrian economic interests." He
adds that "Syria’s tools in Lebanon are very few, but it is utilizing
Hezbollah’s stand and is trying to utilize Awn’s position."

Asked whether Hezbollah is a follower of Syria and Iran, Ja’ja says:
"I have never said that Hezbollah is an agent for Syria and Iran, but
it shares many interests with Syria. This is why Syria is interfering
in Lebanon in its current manner."

Asked to explain how a small gang such as Fatah al-Islam has
been fighting the Lebanese Army for three months and is yet to
surrender, Ja’ja says that this group started as a gang of 400 or 500
elements, but unfortunately, pro-Syrian Palestinian elements joined
intermittently to keep the battles going. Asked whether similar events
and explosions will occur in other parts of Lebanon to keep the army
preoccupied, Ja’ja says: "They are waging an undeclared war against
us; one time through Fatah al-Islam and another time by assassinating
Pierre al-Jumayyil or Walid Idu."

Khuri asks Ja’ja to confirm whether Syria holds the card of Christian
infighting in Lebanon. Ja’ja denies this.

Asked whether the upcoming Lebanese president will be from the 14 March
or 8 March forces, or whether he will be someone who will assume the
post by consensus, Ja’ja says: "He will not definitely be from the 8
March forces, but all options are there, may be not on 25 September,
but definitely before 24 November 2007."