BEIRUT: Disagreements Over Beirut 1 Armenian Candidates Could Cost M

Matt Nash

May 15 2009

In a neighborhood peppered with posters of generations of Gemayels
and Christians keen on entering parliament, the shot of Saad and
Rafik Hariri smiling seems misplaced. The picture adorns the window
of the Armenian Ramgavar party’s building in Gemmayzeh and reflects
the political alliance now more than a decade old between Hariri’s
Future Movement and both Ramgavar and Henshag, another Armenian
political party.

Those three parties have been locked in a struggle for weeks with
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea over who will be the Armenian
Catholic candidate on March 14’s Beirut I list. The Future Movement and
the March 14-allied Armenian parties want Serge Torsarkissian as the
candidate while Geagea is insisting on LF member Richard Kouyoumjian.

Neither side seems willing to budge, and, in a district where neither
coalition is expected to sweep all five seats, two March 14 candidates
for the seat on election day all but guarantees March 8 will win it,
several sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told NOW.

The Armenians argue they deserve to nominate their potential
representative and resent what Henshag described as outside
interference in Armenian affairs. Geagea, meanwhile, maintains he
brings March 14 more votes than the Armenians do in Beirut I and
should be given a seat.

Armenians comprise around 20 percent of registered voters in Beirut I,
and it is widely accepted that 70 to 80 percent of Armenians in Lebanon
vote for the Tashnaq party, which is allied with the Free Patriotic
Movement this year. The rest generally support Henshag, Ramgavar or
smaller parties, though some Armenians bucked the communal trend of
neutrality and joined the LF and other militias during the civil war.

Henshag and Ramgavar first allied with the Future Movement back in
1996 – an electoral arrangement that also included Tashnaq. Relations
between the late Rafik Hariri and Tashnaq quickly soured but Henshag
and Ramgavar have coordinated with the Future Movement ever since.

In both 2000 and 2005, Henshag and Ramgavar agreed to support an
Armenian Future Movement member -Torsarkissian – for one of the four
seats in Beirut officially reserved for the community. The three
parties want Torsarkissian to be the March 14 candidate for Beirut
I’s Armenian Catholic seat again in 2009.

Geagea, however, has not backed down, and this disagreement is
postponing the announcement of the March 14 Beirut I list. March 8,
on the other hand, released their list for the district on April 1,
after Tashnaq announced their alliance with the FPM. The opposition’s
intra-alliance bickering is taking place in Jezzine and, as of now,
that district has two opposition lists.

Repeated attempts to untie the knot have failed. Lebanese press
reports have said Geagea offered to step back if Hariri sacrifices
a candidate so that LF candidate Wehbe Katicha can be added to the
Future Movement list in Akkar or if Hariri agrees to let Torsarkissian
side with a parliamentary bloc of LF MPs and independents instead of
the Future bloc. Hariri reportedly rejected the offers.

Charles Chartouni, a political science professor at the Lebanese
University, told NOW that there was also word of Hariri persuading
Ghattas Khoury to withdraw his independent candidacy for the
Maronite seat in the Chouf in return for Kouyoumjian withdrawing in
Beirut. Khoury is viewed as a potential challenge to the LF’s Chouf
candidate Georges Adwan, who is on the March 14 list in that district.

However, Chartouni said, "Apparently that didn’t work."

The Lebanese press and the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat also reported
March 14 Armenians threatened to boycott the election if Kouyoumjian
does not withdraw. In such a close district, any votes lost would be
sorely missed.

Sarkis Seferian, manager of Ramgavar’s party newspaper Zartonk, told
NOW his party will not boycott. A Henshag party spokesman referred NOW
to a press release that did not address the issue directly but noted,
"We believe that this matter will be solved, so it’s too early to
make any judgment at this moment."

A representative of the Free Lebanese Armenian Movement, a small group
formed around two years ago specifically dedicated to supporting March
14, refused to even entertain the possibility that a deal would not
be reached.

"There will be a deal," she said, cutting off her interviewer before
the question ended. "For sure. For sure. For sure. Ok?"

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