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Interview with Reuters
12 May 2005

Reuters: What is your opinion of the statement issued by the Maronite Bishops’ Council during their emergency meeting in which they warned against applying the Electoral Law of the year 2000, because it is “unjust and unfair,” as they described it, and because it conflicts with the communal “pact of co-existence” in Lebanon?

Mr. Fares: The statement is very important in its content and form, and its warning to all parties. If you go back to the statement I made on May 8, when I decided not to run for elections, you will find many common points between my address and their statement, for I was the first to warn against adopting the 2000 Electoral Law during the parliamentary session that took place a day before my announcement that I was not going to run. The Bishops’ statement has expressed explicitly the sad situation in which we find ourselves today. We have to recognize, all of us, that Lebanon cannot become the country we aspire to have, unless each spiritual family feels that its rights have been respected; otherwise, the country will lose its meaning and existence, as a country in which religions, cultures and civilizations meet and interact.

It is also important to note that the Lebanese war had internal reasons, as well as regional ones (the Arab-Israeli struggle) and international (the struggle of the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, for hegemony over the area).

As for the internal reasons, they can be summed up by the injustices done to the Shi’ites, unfairness felt by the Sunnis, and fear experienced by the Christians. The Taef Accord was established in order to do away with these aspects.

Reuters: The Bishops’ statement mentioned the persons who have declined to run for elections in the current conditions. Is your position, not to run for elections, a final position, or could the many voices that are urging you to reconsider eventually change your position?

Mr. Fares: I appreciate these opinions and the reactions of the people and the goodness of their sentiments, but my decision is final because it is a decision based on principle.

Reuters: Don’t you think that the elections may be postponed after the Bishops’ statement?

Mr. Fares: Maybe. But will this statement be responded to? I doubt it; in any case, if it is responded to, we will have to reconsider matters on that basis.

Reuters: from the perspective of your international connections, do you see that the decision to hold the elections on time is final, or will the wide rejection of the election law lead to a postponement of the elections and the search for a just and fair law?

Mr. Fares: the elections are a Lebanese matter, and I don’t have any information that leads me to expect--or not to expect--the postponement of elections and the search for a new law.

Reuters: Why is the international community so insistent on not postponing the elections despite the many reasons for postponing them, beginning with the electoral law; is there not an appreciation of what such elections might lead to in terms of unfavorable developments? And does the political crisis in the country and in the constitutional institutions create a real fear of a constitutional void and political chaos?

Mr. Fares: The internal and external insistence on having the elections on time is linked to the desire to abide by constitutional and legal texts, even though the parliament’s term has been extended by twenty days. The parliament’s term could have been extended further and we could have studied and passed a law that had the approval of all in parliament. The former government had sent a new electoral law to parliament based on the smaller districts (Qada), then it resigned. After that, we all know what happened. But I do not wish for tension to mount, for we might arrive at a very negative situation.

Reuters: There is a feeling that you have withdrawn from the elections because of the weakening of the role of your ally, the President of the Republic, and that this affected your electoral situation and alliances. Is there such a connection?

Mr. Fares: There is no connection between my withdrawal from running as a candidate for parliament, and my relationship with the President of the Republic. My relationship emanates from my deep respect for the position of the presidency, regardless of its political implications. If the presidency is open to doubt and push-and-pull, then the unity of the country is threatened.

Reuters: How do you evaluate the role of the Speaker of the House, Mr. Nabih Berri? And do you believe he separates between his private interests and his position in the parliament?

Mr. Fares: Mr. Nabih Berri has two positions: The first one is his position as Speaker of the House, a legislative position, while his second position relates to his being a Shiite and at the head of a parliamentary bloc. It is natural for him to strive, within the limits of the law, to consolidate his bloc. But as Speaker of the House, he sheds his sectarian mantle, and becomes only the head of the legislative body that embodies the various sects, and the various political currents.
Nonetheless, I believe that the internal regulations of the parliament should be amended, notably, obliging the Speaker to convene the parliament when a majority of the deputies make such a request.

Reuters: Are you for keeping the Speaker of the House for a tenure of four more years?

Mr. Fares: No.

Reuters: Whom would you nominate as future Speaker of the House?

Mr. Fares: I would nominate Boutros Harb.

Reuters: But Boutros Harb is not a Shiite!

Mr. Fares: True, but the constitution does not specify the sect of the President of the Republic, or the Speaker of the House, or the Prime Minister. I think that the current political system is contrary to the Lebanese constitution, because Article 7 of the Constitution states that “all Lebanese are equal before the law, and they enjoy equally their civil and political rights, and shoulder the same duties and obligations, without distinction”. Moreover, sectarian positions run contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that stipulates “the non-discrimination between one human being and the other based on race, color, sex, religion, language, or opinion …”. Why should the Lebanese be classified in different levels: first, second, third and fourth, with one person having the right to one position, while another person does not have that right?

Reuters: Do you believe that Syria is still intervening in the internal affairs of Lebanon, especially since it was behind the Electoral law of 2000?

Mr. Fares: The 2000 Electoral law was approved by both the loyalists to Syria and its opponents. This shows, unfortunately, that principles disappear when private interests take hold of a large number of politicians.

Reuters: Do you think that Syria has withdrawn its backing of the President of the Republic?

Mr. Fares: This question should be addressed to Syria.

Reuters: Do you believe that the President of the Republic will be able to continue as President, taking into consideration the latest developments in the country?

Mr. Fares: This depends on the political map following the elections, and the general political atmosphere in the country.