Lebanon’s political leaders in long, urgent discussions have decided in principle to segment the country into large constituencies that cross ethnic lines. This will force the parties to cobble together ethnically and religiously diverse candidate lists.
Revealing this, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Beirut say that a series of secret deals may in fact predetermine the results of Lebanon’s May 29 general election even before parliament legislates on the pivotal partition of the multi-community country into voting districts.
The next move is up to the parties. They are in the middle of battling over the boundaries of each district, a touchy endeavor when the exclusion or inclusion of a single village could tip the balance of power for each roster of candidates.
Here’s how the lists are shaping up so far:
THE MARTYR RAFIQ HARIRI LIST
Leading the main Sunni Muslim faction, Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated former prime minister, has struck a deal with Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, which should help him sweep up all the available seats in the Beirut region. To draw Hizballah’s support in the capital, he added to his list Hassan Khalil, described by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources as Nasrallah’s top political adviser.
This Sunni roster is particularly strong in the Sidon region of southern Lebanon, homeland of the Hariri clan, and stands a good chance in the Harub district further south and the northern Sunni city of Tripoli.
THE FREE PATRIOTIC MOVEMENT
This Maronite Christian list, led of General Michel Aoun, acclaimed on his return last Saturday, May 7, from 15 years of Syrian-imposed exile, has also been in intense palaver with the Hizballah leader Nasrallah. His purpose is to establish a Maronite-Hizballah alliance to run in ethnically mixed areas. This ploy has met resistance from fellow Christian leaders who think they are owed good places on the Aoun slate and in the government after their coreligionist is elected president.
The most demanding groups are:
1. A faction led by Solange Jemayal, widow of late president Bashir Jemayal, who was assassinated by Syrian agents during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
2. A group led by Samir Geagea, the jailed former commander of the Lebanese (Phalange) Forces. Under the agreement that brought Aoun home, Geagea must be released within days. He has been conducting negotiations through his wife Astrid on his role and that of his associates in the next Lebanese government.
3. The Lebanese (Phalange) Forces, many of whose members are pro-Syrian.
4. Walid Jumblatt’s Druze faction. Although he faces competition from a rival Druze party, Jumblat’s reputation as co-leader of the “Cedars Revolution” that erupted against Syria after the Hariri assassination in February assures him pride of place.
But, like other Lebanese leaders, he cannot avoid placing candidates from other ethnic groups and parties on his main Druze list. The result is a crazy patchwork that only Lebanese politics could make coherent.
The Druze list for their tribal Chouf Mountains and the town of Alai east of Beirut will also include Hariri faction candidates. Two or three Druze candidates will be integrated in the Hizballah list, the outcome of a dramatic meeting between Jumblatt and Nasrallah.
The Druze leader is now in negotiation with Aoun on a power-sharing arrangement between the Maronites and the Druzes for the western Bekaa Valley area.
Aoun labors at a disadvantage. His 15 years-absence has left him bereft of an organization. But he is popular and strongly backed by Washington and Paris. The rival Lebanese factions appear to have come to terms with his dominant position in future Lebanese government.
The Shiite Muslim community, the largest in Lebanon, is meanwhile torn between Hizballah and Amal, the party of parliament speaker Nabih Berri over the proportion of seats in the legislature due to each group. The Shiites have the population numbers to carry the southern Beqaa Valley, Baalbek and Hermal in the northern Beqaa. They still need to work out how to share out the spoils.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Lebanon see the sharpest political contest, the one that is attracting close American and French interest, taking place in the northern voting districts 1 and 2 in the central and northern Beqaa Valley and the Tripoli region of northern Lebanon. Those regions are populated by Maronite and Syrian Orthodox groups with a traditional affinity to Syria that goes back decades. Lebanon watchers are curious to see whether these regions stand by their old Syrian loyalties at the ballot box and vote for the familiar pro-Syrian deputies or are swayed by the anti-Syrian revolution in Beirut.