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Lebanese President Calls on Parliament to Change Electoral Law

Lebanon's president sent a letter to parliament Wednesday urging it to review an electoral law that some politicians say favors members of parliament loyal to Syria.

In the letter, President Emile Lahoud urges parliament to call another session to consider revising an election law passed five years ago, when Syria controlled the country. Some members of parliament claim the law splits voting districts in a way that favors pro-Syrian candidates.

Parliament met last week to discuss developing a new law for parliamentary elections, scheduled to begin May 29. But some members walked out of that session saying that pro-Syrian legislators were not willing to address the issue. In response, the pro-Syrian contingent said they would have to revert to the 2000 election law due to lack of quorum in parliament.

Adib Farha was an advisor to former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, whose assassination in February led to international pressure for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Mr. Farha says it is now up to the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, to decide how to handle the dispute over the electoral law.

"If the speaker of the parliament decides to call for a parliamentary meeting this week, then more than likely the election law of 2000 will not be enacted and a new law will be enacted that uses smaller districts, which will be more fair and more representative," he said.

If Mr. Berri does not call a new meeting, then a decree will be sent to President Lahoud to accept the districting of the 2000 elections.

Mr. Lahoud has been viewed as a staunch supporter of Syria, but since its withdrawal from Lebanon, the president seems to be moving closer to the Maronite Christian community, who favor smaller districts.

All parties agree that the elections should take place as scheduled but if the districting issue is not resolved, many have threatened to dispute the validity of the elections. Parliament has until the close of the day on Thursday to address the issue before President Lahoud officially calls for the parliamentary elections to take place at the end of the month.

If the elections do take place, they would be the first in Lebanon without a Syrian presence in over three decades.