Daily Star staff
BEIRUT: The past year has seen Lebanese politicians disagree with respect to the election of a president, the composition of a “national unity” government, and the drafting of a new electoral law, a new report issued by Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa says.
Articles 157 through 184 of the report, which details the work of the Arab League over the past year, specifically address efforts to solve the Lebanese political crisis. The report describes the various trips taken by Moussa, the issues discussed with Lebanese leaders, and the formal stance of the Arab League regarding some of the differences within Lebanon.
The report notes that a three-point plan of action was drafted for Lebanon in November 2007. First, the plan called for “France, the Vatican, and other relevant nations to prevail on the Maronite patriarch [Nasrallah Butros Sfeir] to create a list of acceptable candidates for the presidency.”
Second, the plan stated that this list was to be submitted to Future Movement chief MP Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri – representing the pro-government and opposition factions, respectively – in order to draft a short list to be presented to Parliament for voting.
Finally, the plan argued for “a French mediation role in convincing the patriarch to delineate his list and working with Syria and the Arab League” in driving a political compromise in Lebanon.
The report also mentions some of the concessions made by the feuding parties in Lebanon. One example was the agreement of former President Emile Lahoud to refrain from creating a government rivaling that of incumbent Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in exchange for a ruling majority concession that it would not elect a president by simple majority.
Moussa also says that it “soon became clear that the various parties preferred a controlled vacuum until agreement could be reached.” In any case, as Lahoud’s term expired and the transition to vacuum was completed, the Arab League proposed what is now known as the Arab initiative for Lebanon. This initiative, says the report, consists of three complementary principles designed to address the main issues of dispute in Lebanon.
The initiative calls for the immediate election of the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as president, the formation of a national unity government fairly representing the ruling majority and opposition factions, and the drafting of a more representative electoral law.
Moussa said, “the Arab League was pleased with, and continues to endorse, the Lebanese consensus regarding the election of General Suleiman as president” but also notes that the dispute has since “focused on the distribution of seats within the next cabinet.”
According to the report, efforts to resolve the dispute over government composition stalled as differing local interpretations of the second principle of the Arab initiative (forming a “national unity” government) were proposed by each faction.
The majority “favored a formula that granted it 14 seats, the opposition 6 seats, with the president controlling 10 seats.” Conversely, the opposition argued that “the equal division of seats between the two factions and the presidency [10+10+10] was preferable.”
While the report notes that interpretations range from pro-government 15+5+10 formulations to 10+10+10 opposition arrangements, it says that the Arab League would like to see a solution “granting the parliamentary majority a larger share of seats while preserving the voice of the opposition, perhaps along the lines of a 12/13 majority share, with the opposition taking 10 seats and the president receiving the remainder.”
The report then focuses on the dispute over an electoral law, explaining that both Lebanese factions have agreed upon adopting a qada-based (smaller district) law. However, the Moussa report also says that “efforts to clarify the third principle of the Arab initiative [the electoral law] focused on forging agreement regarding the spirit of that law while leaving the specific formulation to Parliament and the government.”
Since there remains a dispute over “what is meant by the qada as a unit” – whether or not the 1960 platform or a new one is adopted – and since the opposition and pro-government parties continue to quarrel over whether agreement over the electoral law must precede the implementation of the first two principles of the initiative (the report favors a sequential implementation), it appears that the political crisis may continue.