Ali Bazzi: "We want to save our country and overcome the current crisis."

Posted in Broader Middle East | 24-Apr-08 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Ali Bazzi

- Exclusive WSN interview with Ali Bazzi, Member of the Lebanese Parliament and member of the Amal Party, conducted by Manuela Paraipan -

WSN: Amr Moussa visited Beirut often in the past few months. He failed in his efforts to bring the Lebanese together. What are the next steps?

ALI BAZZI: As you know, right now we have the Arab initiative in our hands. We consider it to be an historical initiative and we are dealing with it in a highly positive way. The dispute between the Lebanese leaders was about Article 2 from the Arab initiative regarding the formation of the cabinet.

The Speaker (Nabih Berri) told Amr Moussa that our interpretation of Article 2 is to give the majority 10 seats, the opposition 10 seats and the elected president another 10 seats. If the majority agrees on this, he said, regardless of the position of my allies, I will go to the parliament and elect Michel Sleiman as president. When they discussed this on the table, Saad Hariri said that if we agree on the 10, would you go to elections? Michel Aoun called the speaker and the speaker said to go ahead. Then they said that we have to elect the president without any other guarantees regarding the formation of the cabinet. After four hours, Amr Moussa told the speaker that the majority refused.

WSN: Since they refused, will you keep asking for 10-10-10 or will you make a compromise?

AB: At the beginning, if you go back to the French initiative regarding the issue of the national unity government, it was an agreement that the cabinet should be formed according to the proportional representation of the parliamentary blocks inside the parliament. This means 55% representation of the majority inside the parliament, which gives them 55% representation inside the government and 45% for us. We wanted to reach a fair solution for all parties involved and the speaker felt that 10-10-10 was somehow a compromise on our side. They do not want the actual representation and they do not want a partnership. What is it that they want then? This question should be answered.

In our hands right now is the Arab initiative; we did not say that it has gone with the wind. It’s active and it’s better for all Lebanese that this hope still exists. We are open to other initiatives that may be presented as well and we want to save our country and overcome the current crisis.

WSN: Is this a typically Lebanese crisis?

AB: We know that our crisis is not only Lebanese. Unfortunately. So you have other things besides the internal issues. There are regional issues between the Arab states, and there are international issues. All these factors play a big role in the crisis. We opened our windows too much to the outside. We should open them for each other more than to the outside.

WSN: In your talks, did you discuss which ministers each block should have, the names for the security chiefs and so on?

AB: No. As a matter of fact, Amr Moussa had a draft because he knew the positions of the parties concerned and he submitted it to the leaders in dialog. The main points were:

1) The agreement to elect Michel Sleiman according to the constitutional procedures, and without an amendment. Article 74 can be applied and it does not need amendments.

2) The formation of the Unity National government

3) Electoral law

Some time ago on behalf of the Christian community, Patriarch Sfeir raised the concern about electoral law. He prefers the caza electoral system (smaller districts). Based upon previous experience, it is better not to have smaller districts because it encourages sectarianism while larger districts encourage nationalism. However, we said that as long as our partners prefer another alternative, we would go with them on the caza. The 1960 Law is an alternative to what we now have.

WSN: You reached a deadlock.

AB: Nothing in politics is ever closed. We should be optimistic and look for other choices. We know that relations between Arabs and in particular, two Arab countries, are not good.

WSN: Are you talking about Syria and Saudi Arabia? To which extent are their problems influencing Lebanese affairs?

AB: We are not living on an isolated island. We try to overcome the crisis for the benefit of our country. We count on the fact that the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Syria will improve. This would affect our country in a positive way. The speaker raised this issue two years ago and he told Amr Moussa and everybody about it. The United States has its own interests in the region and in the world, and we'd like to see a balance, especially because as a small country in the game of nations, we end up paying the price.

We try to avoid such prices for the sake of all in the country. According to our political system, whether right or wrong, we have a confederation of the various groups of people in Lebanon, in addition to democracy. We are a democratic state better than other states in the region. We are looking for a solution favorable to all parties. In August 2007, the speaker had a Lebanese initiative, but I do not think the Lebanese have reached the level of taking and implementing their own decisions. We will not quit. We will keep trying to reach a solution so that everybody feels that they have won against the crisis, not against each other.

WSN: Can the situation degenerate?

AB: We don't want this political climate to be transferred to other issues, be it security, instability or threatening the civil order in Lebanon. We have a verbal agreement not to take our political problems to the streets. We hope this situation won't last for a long period of time.

WSN: How has the democratic process been affected by the fact that the parliament closed its doors?

AB: As you know, the speaker has thus far called for 16 rounds to elect a president so the parliament is not closed; as they say, the parliament is open to elect a president but it is closed in front of the unconstitutional cabinet. You cannot avoid the interpretation of the constitution and of the national charter about such a cabinet when a community is not part of the decision-making as it should be. The parliament has been working to elect a president according to the constitutional procedures that require a majority of two thirds.

WSN: Can you still call it a democratic process when the main state institutions are either blocked or accused of being illegitimate?

AB: When you have such distrust, a severe political crisis, the question is how to solve it by democratic means. Maybe we can call for elections; this happens in the West, but here sometimes there is this belief that if you have a crisis you should go on with it. We have elections coming up in June 2009. Can we wait that long? Can the country wait until then? Who will run the elections in 2009?

In august 2007, the speaker said that we don't want the National Unity government, let's agree on a president. At that time we were before the constitutional period of electing a president. We did not agree on a consensual candidate then. They mentioned Michel Sleiman afterwards. If they had mentioned Sleiman before, it would have been different. Maybe the priority was to keep Siniora's government in power and take over the presidential prerogatives. The facts on a daily basis actually illustrate what I am saying now. Maybe that was the priority. Is it beneficial for the country? I doubt it.

WSN: Thank you MP Bazzi for meeting with me.