Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is racing against time to persuade Sunnis to take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections, which kicked off with expatriate voting on Friday. The elections will be held in Lebanon on May 15.
Siniora told Asharq Al-Awsat that the polls are a "turning point in the confrontation against preventing Hezbollah and its allies from taking over Lebanon."
He chose to field a list in the elections in spite of head of the Mustaqbal movement, Saad Hariri's decision earlier this year to suspend his political career.
"The scene cannot be left empty to be filled by individuals seeking personal interests," explained Siniora.
Moreover, he stressed that a boycott of the elections was "futile", citing the Christian boycott of the 1992 elections when one candidate managed to win a seat at parliament with only 47 votes.
He also cited a Sunni boycott of Iraqi elections, whose negative impact is still being felt.
Asked why he opted to support a list and not run himself, he replied: "I obtained everything any politician could dream off in Lebanon." He said he served as finance minister in five governments headed by late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. After his assassination, he served as prime minister for four and half years. He also ran for parliament and led the Mustaqbal movement for eight years.
"I chose not to run this time because I want to set an example of a person who can work in public life while not necessarily pursuing a position in power," he said.
Furthermore, he stated that he did not want to "turn his back on the people." So, he chose to embark on the elections after making the necessary consultations with the right people and groups, who all agreed that "it was not right to abandon the scene."
"This drove me to take this position, which has been received positively by Sunnis and others in Lebanon and on the Arab level," Siniora remarked. "The Arabs want Lebanon to rise again and to stand by their side."
"They are keen on Lebanon and keen that the situation will not deteriorate further given the negative impact that will have on the Arab world," he continued.
He added that even though taking part in the elections has its own share of problems and difficulties, they are marginal compared to the problems or crises that may arise if a boycott were to happen.
On this note, he called on everyone to "take a serious and firm stance to vote. I call on them to take part in the electoral process, which is a duty for everyone. I call on them to choose right, meaning to choose those who will effectively support the Lebanese state and restore its role, authority and dignity, and prevent it from falling in the hands of those who will abuse it to serve the interests of others."
Moreover, contrary to Hariri's supporters, Siniora said he does not believe that his suspension of his political career was also a call to boycott the elections.
Hariri simply said he will not run in the elections and neither will members of the Mustaqbal movement, he explained.
He denied claims that Hariri had called on Muslims or the Lebanese to boycott the polls.
"I believe it is in Lebanon's national interest for voters to turn out heavily at the ballot stations, and not listen to the views of people who do not weigh the negative impact this boycott, should it happen, will have," he added.
"No one can step away and believe that he would be doing himself favors or that a boycott is the only way to express disapproval of the electoral law that should not have been ratified in the first place," he went on to say.
"Personally, I was opposed to this law. I also opposed Michel Aoun's election as president," Siniora continued.
The law, he elaborated, violates the constitution and limits the freedom of choice of the voter by forcing them to vote for one list and cast a "preferential vote" to a candidate on that same list. This creates additional problems to the candidates because it will lead to disputes between candidates running on the same list, he explained.
"Instead of a boycott, a complaint should have been made over the law when it was submitted at parliament," Siniora said. "We are now ruing our mistakes. Now, instead of committing another sin, we should express our rejection of this law by voting for those who are also opposed to it so we can reach change."
To that end, he hailed the recent positions of Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi and Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif al-Derian, who clearly called for people to take part in the elections and to vote for the right candidates who can stop the ongoing collapse and save Lebanon.
"Salvation does not lie in standing aside or by taking negative stances, rather it lies in positive stances by electing people who can change this law," he stressed.
Describing the Beirut Confronts list that he is backing in the capital, he said: "It is unique for two main reasons: It is not a grey list, rather its stances are clear over restoring the Lebanese state and reviving the constitution, completing the implementation of the Taif Agreement, respecting international and Arab resolutions and the independence of the judiciary and practicing real democracy at parliament."
Democracy, he added, has been ruined through the "gimmick of consensual democracy that has ruined the mechanisms of the democratic system."
"The other reason is that the Lebanese people must realize that elected candidates are headed to parliament, not a walk in the park, so you must send people who are qualified to play this role, not simply because they have high popularity," he added.
The post-elections phase must focus on bringing in people who believe in restoring the state, its role and capabilities so that it would underscore the main principles on which these elections are held, meaning it should reflect the voice of the people, stressed Siniora.
He therefore, called for the formation of a parliamentary coalition comprised of people who believe in these values.
"We want to reclaim Lebanon and the state's free will from those who are trying to kidnap it, meaning Hezbollah and other groups," he declared. The coalition must be keen on Lebanon and its independence and it must prevent any violations by Israel, which is still Lebanon's enemy, and other rivals, who are trying to seize Lebanon and prevent it from practicing its freedom of choice.
Moreover, Siniora called for putting an end to the "gimmicks that are governments of national unity." Such governments, he explained, are formed during times of war or when dangerous problems arise. "When conditions return to normal, the majority returns to ruling and the minority returns to the position of the opposition."
Furthermore, Siniora refuses to become embroiled in the "maze of consensual democracy," which he described as another gimmick, with a sole purpose of "empowering Hezbollah so that it can have a minority through which it can control the majority."
"We are seeing how a small minority is being allowed to impose its will on the majority. We have reached a point where the government where does not take decisions, but spends its time arguing. We have seen this obstruction throughout the years," he continued.
"We have wasted 60 percent of the years from 2008 until today without reaching any agreement and when agreements are reached, they are usually a product of some tradeoff," he added.
"They have ruined the parliamentary democratic system," charged Siniora.
On the repercussions of a Hezbollah victory in next week's elections, he warned: "It will change the face of the democratic Lebanon, its freedom, economy, culture, openness, respect for the role of the state, its free voice, constitution and independence of the judiciary."
It will consolidate the factors that have "ruined the democratic system, independence of the judiciary, internal balances and Lebanon's foreign policy and relations with Arab brothers and friendly nations. Respect to Arab and international resolutions will be completely abandoned."
"It will no longer be possible to save Lebanon if we continue like this," he warned.
Siniora is realistic, saying the elections "will signal the beginning of the real struggle, which must be peaceful, democratic and clear. The people must therefore, assume the responsibility of the change."