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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06BEIRUT1966 2006-06-15 15:28:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

MGLE01: HARIRI ADVISOR STRONGLY CRITICIZES DRAFT

Tags:   IS KDEM LE PGOV PREL SY 
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FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4092
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
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					C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 001966 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/WERNER/SINGH

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/16/2016
TAGS: IS KDEM LE PGOV PREL SY
SUBJECT: MGLE01: HARIRI ADVISOR STRONGLY CRITICIZES DRAFT
ELECTORAL LAW

REF: BEIRUT 1902

Classified By: Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman. Reason: Section 1.4 (b).

SUMMARY
-------



1. (C) MP Bahije Tabbarah, a close advisor to former Prime
Minister Rafiq Hariri, gave a point-by-point critique of the
draft electoral law that left little doubt he would be
advising his Future Movement colleagues to oppose the law
when it comes up for debate in Parliament. Tabbarah, who is
not as close to Sa'ad Hariri as he was to Rafiq, saved his
harshest criticism for the qada system (smaller electoral
district) proposed in the new legislation, insisting it would
severely weaken the Future Movement to the point that it
could threaten the pro-reform March 14 alliance. He
characterized the draft law as an "intellectual exercise"
whose concepts would prove impractical in the real world.
Tabbarah's withering critique was at odds with the more
accepting stance of PM Siniora (reftel) and, depending on his
influence with Sa'ad Hariri, may portend a serious challenge
in the upcoming parliamentary debate. Concerning the
recently released UNIIIC interim report, former Justice
Minister Tabbarah expressed confidence that Commissioner
Brammertz' "conservative, low profile" approach offered the
best means to produce a solid case able to withstand judicial
scrutiny. End summary.



2. (SBU) MP Tabbarah, a senior member of Sa'ad Hariri's
Future Movement, met with poloff on June 15 to discuss the
newly proposed electoral law. Tabbarah was Justice Minister
in the Cabinet of assassinated PM Rafiq Hariri, and had
previously served as chief legal advisor to the Hariri-owned
Solidere conglomerate. Although Tabbarah's counsel was held
in high esteem by the elder Hariri, by his own admission he
does not enjoy ready access to the son, Sa'ad. However,
Rafiq Hariri's widow, Nazek, herself an influential member of
the Hariri circle, still seeks and listens to Tabbarah's
advice.

A HARSH CRITIQUE


--------------------------





3. (C) Unlike PM Fouad Siniora, Future Movement MP Tabbarah
was in clear opposition to the draft law released last week
by the Electoral Law Commission. Although the commission was
chaired by his old law firm colleague Fouad Boutros, Tabbarah
sarcastically derided the "intellectualism" of the draft
statute, saying it was completely impractical and exposed the
political naivete of its authors. He also referred to an
"ill-advised" sea change in the commission's deliberations
when, several weeks ago, its two Maronite members threatened
to quit, and agreed to continue only when the
Christian-favored "qada" districting system was accepted for
the final draft.



4. (C) Despite his discomfort with the fact that several of
the widely accepted proposals in the draft would (in his
opinion) require amending Lebanon's Constitution, the brunt
of Tabbarah's criticism centered on the qada concept. He
asked how the Christian community could expect to elect most
of its allocated 64 seats -- out of 128, in accordance with
the 1989 Ta'if Agreement -- only from districts that held a
Christian majority of voters. Considering that the Christian
community comprised only about 35-38 percent of the
electorate, Tabbarah said the qada system would drive the
Muslim community away from its demographically justified
dominance. He said that in his opinion, the concept would
never be accepted.



5. (C) Apart from his criticism of the inherent unfairness
of the mixed qada/muhafaza system, Tabbarah argued that the
entire voting proposal was simply too complex. He
rhetorically asked what agency was going to supervise the
operation, tabulation, and verification of the voting process
proposed in the new law. He noted that each citizen would
have to vote on two separate ballots -- with an individual
option to alter the priority of the proportional lists of
candidates. Tabbarah said Lebanon had no experience in
organizing and running such an advanced process. He
predicted an endless series of legal challenges to the
electoral results. He argued that Lebanon, as a nation just
beginning to believe in credible elections, required a far
simpler and more easily understood system.

PANDORA'S BOX

BEIRUT 00001966 002 OF 002




--------------------------





6. (C) Tabbarah next criticized the law's provision to
decrease the voting age to 18 and increase representation of
women on the lists of candidates. Although he acknowledged
both measures enjoyed broad theoretical support, both would
require Constitutional amendments. Speaking from his
experience as Justice Minister, he stated that he believed
that now was not the time to be opening the Constitution to
changes. Without referring to specifics, Tabbarah said that
in the current fractured political landscape, some
politicians might take advantage of the opportunity to
introduce amendments that would destabilize the situation.
He said he would recommend instead an electoral law that
could be implemented without resorting to constitutional
changes.



7. (C) Tabbarah next addressed the proposals concerning
expatriate voting, media regulations during elections, and
campaign finance. Although he endorsed the concept of
emigrant voting, he once again remarked that it was an
"intellectual nicety" that would be exceptionally difficult
to execute and monitor for fairness, due to the complexity of
the Lebanese diaspora. Concerning media rules and finance
reform, Tabbarah asked which agency had the expertise and
resources to regulate and ensure that the new rules were
followed in the "wide open" Lebanese electoral system. He
predicted the resulting electoral disputes would overwhelm an
already burdened judicial system.



8. (C) Lastly, Tabbarah posed the question: what was the
real objective of the new law and why wasn't it stated in the
draft text? He acknowledged that the confessional guarantees
of the Ta'if Agreement were both stabilizing and restrictive,
but if the country wanted to create a new political order,
not based on confessional quotas, that question should be
debated openly. He believes the draft law is useful in that
it raises the issue of whether Lebanon would be better served
through a pluralistic system, but if that was the intent of
the Electoral Law Commission, he believed the question should
be debated openly before it is institutionalized by statute.


POSITIVE VIEW OF BRAMMERTZ' METHODOLOGY


--------------------------





9. (C) Turning to the recently released UNIIIC report, MP
Tabbarah said that as a lawyer, he was very impressed by the
slow, steady pressure Commissioner Brammertz is exerting on
"powerful interests." He said that in his opinion, the
Commissioner clearly knows how to deal with Syrian regime
figures, whom he feels are "perplexed and increasingly
anxious" over what the Brammertz investigation is uncovering.



10. (C) He expressed his view that the report was a model
of judicial tact -- offering few indications of what evidence
or lines of inquiry the commission is pursuing.
Additionally, he said the gradual acquisition of access to
key figures was placing the Syrian regime in a position where
to backtrack in its cooperation would likely bring swift and
serious action from the Security Council.



11. (C) Tabbarah was heartened to learn that Commissioner
Brammertz and the commission will apparently be extended a
further 12 months. In his view, this would give Brammertz
the time needs to "unravel a very tight knot" and produce a
case strong enough to withstand the scrutiny of an
inernational tribunal.

COMMENT


--------------------------





12. (C) According to some political observers, Tabbarah
still holds aspirations to be Prime Minister, despite his
evident fall in prominence in the Hariri-dominated movement.
This could explain some of the considerable divergence from
PM Siniora on the issue of the electoral law. While Siniora
sees much to commend in the draft law, not the least being
that it frees Lebanon from the deeply flawed,
Syrian-engineered electoral law of 2000, Tabbarah views the
draft almost as a non-starter. It will be interesting to see
which wing of the movement prevails in the upcoming
parliamentary debate, and to see if other critics of the law,
especially Michel Aoun, take advantage of the apparent split
among Future Movement politicians and pile on with criticism.
End comment.
FELTMAN