By Hasan Lakkis
Judging by this weekend’s speech-making by three key leaders, the electoral season is up and running, and long before the 2013 polls open some important positions can already be inferred from their words.
According to political sources, there was some common ground between the speeches of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun Saturday; Future Movement head and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Sunday; and Progressive Socialist Party head Walid Jumblatt Sunday.
The rhetoric they all used provided a glimpse into the next election’s alliances and the stances that they will take, the sources said. Speaking from Sahal Alma Saturday, on the seventh anniversary of his return from exile, Aoun devoted significant time to his long simmering dispute with President Michel Sleiman. He accused the president of obstructing the government.
That Aoun also stressed his rivalry with Jumblatt suggests that there will be an electoral confrontation in three qadas, the sources added. In two – Aley and Chouf – which have large Druze populations, Jumblatt’s word is usually final. The third, Baabda, has a Druze presence, but the Shiite population is larger.
Aoun also mentioned his rivalry with the Future Movement, which the sources said suggests confrontations will take place in all districts which have Sunni populations who support Hariri. These may include Beirut, Zahle, western Bekaa and Akkar. The FPM leader continued to distance himself from March 14 and its Christian leaders, renewing his alliance with Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Marada Movement.
He also emphasized his support for the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, saying it will remain in power.
As for Hariri, who spoke in a televised speech for Sunday’s Press Martyrs’ Day, the former prime minister is opposed to the Syrian regime and thus its Lebanese allies: Hezbollah, Amal and Aoun’s FPM. Sources said this means there will be electoral battles in all Sunni majority districts where the Future Movement has influence.
These sources added that Hariri’s speech established what will be two major themes of his electoral battle: the toppling of the Syrian regime, and Hezbollah’s arms. The fact that the Syrian regime appears to be on Hariri’s electoral agenda indicates he does not see Assad’s fall as imminent, according to the sources.
Jumblatt spoke of his opposition to Assad’s regime in a speech from Sawfar Sunday. Political sources said that this rhetoric, as well as his praise for the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party, is evidence that he is moving closer to March 14.
According to the sources, Jumblatt’s speech drew a picture of the potential electoral lists in areas where there are both large Christian and Druze presences, notably Baabda, Aley and the Chouf.
They added that Jumblatt did not slam Hezbollah as he did Aoun. Despite his differences with Hezbollah on Syria, the sources said that he avoided discussing weapons because he does not want to publically antagonize Sayed Hasan Nasrallah’s party. The Shiite vote influences two electoral districts the Druze leader wants a hand in: Marjayoun-Hasbaya and western Bekaa. They said Jumblatt plans to retake a Druze seat in Marjayoun-Hasbaya, by giving Talal Arslan’s Lebanese Democratic Party one of Aley’s Druze seats.
Taken together, these speeches indicate the following about the 2013 parliamentary elections:
1. The campaign has begun, and it is already heated.
2. Although it has been discussed a lot, proportional representation will not be on the table. Jumblatt publically announced his rejection of the system, and his allies within the Future Movement are either not enthusiastic about PR or unwilling to take a stand against Jumblatt. Aoun also does not have an interest in taking on his Shiite allies, who do not want their lists in south Lebanon and the northern and eastern Bekaa to be altered by PR.
3. From the sounds of the speech-making, electoral fever is on and although the battles will be fierce, debates will remain political – none of the forces in the running can afford to tamper with the country’s security.