|Date: Apr 3, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Hariri urges Beirutis to vote to protect community|
|Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Declaring that the upcoming parliamentary elections would be different from previous polls, Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged the Future Movement’s supporters to vote in high numbers to protect the Sunni community against attempts targeting it.
Hariri also defended the Future Movement’s dialogue with its political foe, Hezbollah, saying talks are held with groups with whom his party is at loggerheads, rather than with those with whom it is in agreement.
It was the prime minister’s latest fiery speech, part of the Future Movement’s campaigning for the May 6 parliamentary elections, aimed at rallying popular support in the lead-up to Lebanon’s first polls in nine years.
“There is no doubt that these elections will be different from previous ones. In the past, an electoral list would win because the vote was based on a winner-take-all system,” Hariri said, addressing a crowd of supporters after meeting with former Prime Minister Tammam Salam at his Moseitbeh residence Sunday.
“If there are five voters in a house, [in the past] it [was] enough for three voters to go to cast their ballots because they are sure that the [electoral] list will win. But in these elections, this behavior will not work because the higher the number of votes obtained, the bigger the chance the other [rival] side will lose hope of winning,” he said.
Hariri was referring to the uncertainty brought with the new proportional vote law – with Lebanon divided into 15 electoral districts –that includes preferential voting.
The law, which replaced the controversial 1960 majoritarian system used in the last elections in 2009, is widely expected to result in districts being split between more parties.
The new law also allows Lebanese nationals living overseas to vote for the first time.
Over 90,000 Lebanese expatriates have registered to vote.
Hariri renewed his call for a high voter turnout on May 6 to secure parliamentary seats for his list.
“In the 2009 elections, the voter turnout in Beirut was around 48 percent. This time we must reach 60 to 75 percent. The Beirutis must tell everyone that it is forbidden for anyone to get close to Beirut,” he said.
“There are attempts to target Lebanon and the Sunni sect. But we, with the way we behave, will either preserve the sect or abandon it.”
During the announcement of the Future Movement’s electoral list for the Beirut-II district last month, Hariri touted the elections as a “confrontation” between the Future Movement and Hezbollah over who controls the decision-making in Beirut.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who along with Salam is a candidate in Hariri’s 11-member list for the Beirut-II district, echoed a similar warning over the vote in Beirut.
“The electoral battle in Beirut will be different from other electoral battles because its decision is being targeted,” Machnouk said in a statement released Monday.
Machnouk has repeatedly said that the group that controls Beirut’s decision-making will control political decisions for the whole of Lebanon.
Although the country was on a three-day Easter holiday, more parties Monday announced the names of their candidates in Beirut, the mountain town of Aley and the northern city of Tripoli.
The elections promise to be fiercely contested between long-established rival and allied parties facing a challenge from civil society candidates, who hope to benefit from the proportional vote law to take seats in the next 128-member Parliament.
Hariri responded to critics, mainly former minister Ashraf Rifi, an archfoe of Hezbollah, for not taking a tougher stance on the Iranian-backed Shiite party.
“Remember in one stage, there were those who said to you: ‘How can Saad Hariri open a dialogue with Hezbollah?’ But if I don’t talk to Hezbollah, who do I talk to?” Hariri told supporters.
“A dialogue is held with people we disagree with and not with those with whom we are in agreement,” he added.
In addition to adopting a policy of “conflict management” with Hezbollah, Hariri allowed the Future Movement to engage in several rounds of dialogue sessions with Hezbollah at Speaker Nabih Berri’s Ain al-Tineh residence in 2015 and 2016, aimed at defusing political and sectarian tensions in the country, stoked by the war in Syria.
Hariri defended the CEDRE conference, also known as Paris IV, saying the international meeting would endorse projects that could create an estimated 900,000 jobs in Lebanon.
The prime minister scoffed at skeptics who argued that the conference, set to be held in the French capital on April 6, would increase Lebanon’s public debt, which is estimated to stand at over $80 billion.
“In the past year and a half, we achieved stability and security. Now, we must work for the revitalization of the economy. We went to Rome to strengthen and bolster the Army and security forces. Now, we are going to Paris to revitalize the economy,” Hariri said, referring to the Rome II conference, held March 15, where countries pledged financial aid to purchase weapons and equipment for the Lebanese Army and security forces.
“If we just talk about the job opportunities the CEDRE conference will provide, it will secure more than 900,000 jobs. This is what we want,” Hariri said.
“There are those who say that the CEDRE conference will increase debt. No, it will not increase the debt. We will invest in projects that will have positive results.”
Lebanon is seeking to court investment for dozens of infrastructure projects at the CEDRE conference.
Expected to be attended by representatives from 50 countries and institutions, the conference is aimed at drumming up international support to prop up Lebanon’s ailing economy and frail infrastructure through investment projects and soft loans.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said his party and the Progressive Socialist Party led by MP Walid Jumblatt were the two parties that worked the hardest toward the building of a powerful state.
“The essential political slogan is the presence of a powerful state in Lebanon. The two parties that worked most for the building of a powerful state after the  Taif Accord are the Lebanese Forces and the PSP,” Geagea told a news conference after meeting with members of the LF’s electoral list in the Baabda district at his Maarab residence, north of Beirut.
He called on the Lebanese to vote for candidates, rather than for electoral programs or blueprints.
“If we want to get rid of this situation, neither electoral programs, nor plans will be useful. ... It’s a matter of having suitable people [in Parliament],” Geagea said.
Separately, the head of the Saudi diplomatic mission in Lebanon Walid Bukhari met with Jumblatt, in an ice-breaking sit-down Sunday night.
During the meeting held at Jumblatt’s Clemenceau residence and attended by former ministers Wael Abu Faour and Ghazi Aridi, the two discussed current political developments in Lebanon and in the region, the National News Agency reported.