Minority sects demand greater representation in Parliament

Van Meguerditchian
The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s minority Christian sects demanded greater representation in  Parliament Thursday and called on lawmakers to add two more seats for the group  in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Following a meeting at the Chaldean Archdiocese in Baabda, Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji  said that religious figures of  all six minority sects had agreed to demand the addition of two parliamentary  seats that would represent all six communities, as was currently the case, and  not specific sects.

Kassarji said all six groups – Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Latins,  Assyrians, Chaldeans and Copts – were in agreement. However, representatives of  the Syriac Catholic Church  did not attend the meeting.

Leading officials in the six minority sects argue that they are  underrepresented and their rights are marginalized by other sects.

“The agreement we reached is to add one seat for minorities in Metn  and another in Zahle,” Kassarji told The  Daily Star.

The single seat currently designated for minorities in Beirut’s third  district is represented by MP Nabil de Freij, a Latin.

In the past year, the issue of representation of the minority sects has been  the subject of a political tug-of-war by rival parties.

Following the collapse of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, the Free Patriotic Movement  has supported the idea of  allocating the Syriac community a ministry in the Cabinet of Prime Minister  Najib Mikati, in order to attract the support of the voters of the minority  sects.

Politicians in the March 14 coalition  have decided to take another  approach in dealing with the representation of the minorities in Parliament,  namely by recommending that the Syriac Orthodox receive a seat in Zahle, with  Syriac Catholics receiving one in Beirut.

March 14’s proposals for minority seats have been discussed in the ongoing  parliamentary subcommittee meetings, but legislators have yet to agree on a new  electoral law for the upcoming elections.

“Not specifying the seats for a particular sect is in the interest of all  minority sects,” said Kassarji.

Representatives of the five sects that attended the meeting also called on  Parliament to move the minority seat from Beirut’s third district to Beirut’s  first district. While voters in Beirut’s third district are predominantly  Muslim, the majority of voters in Beirut’s first district are Christian.

Kassarji said that the minority sects would relay their demands during  upcoming meetings with a number of politicians and political parties.

“We already met with Metn MP Sami Gemayel  this week, we will meet other  politicians next week,” Kassarji added.