Sleiman’s political group set to meet next month

Next month will see a new political group join the ranks of Lebanon’s myriad organizations, with the Gathering for the Republic holding its first meeting at the residence of former President Michel Sleiman. Sleiman, who will launch the group at his Yarze residence on April 13 at 10:30 a.m., has already sent out invitations to numerous officials to attend the event, sources close to the former president said.

Sleiman said in February he was preparing an initiative to break the political deadlock in the country after contacting officials and community leaders who have already expressed a readiness to join the new group.

The gathering has no political ambitions to form a party. Rather, Sleiman has described it as a national forum that seeks to cross sectarian and geographical lines to end the 10-month-old presidential vacuum.

The Daily Star obtained a draft document attached to the invitation that detailed the work and objectives of the gathering. According to the document, national consultation is necessary to safeguard the Taif Accord and the constitutional amendments it inspired to protect the country’s top Christian post.

The Taif Accord was signed in Saudi Arabia in October 1989 and ended Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War. The document said the accord and the amendments constitute a safety net that has protected Lebanon from strife for the past 15 years.

According to the document, the events that have tested Lebanon over the years include the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon, the March 8 and March 14 protests that followed, the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah, uprisings in several Arab countries, the Syrian civil war and the current presidential vacuum.

The fact that Lebanon has remained resilient in the face of all these challenges speaks to the effectiveness of the Taif Accord, the document said, and protecting it can be achieved by implementing the 2012 Baabda Declaration, in which both March 8 and March 14 leaders pledged a policy of neutrality in foreign conflicts.

The document also stressed that finding internal solutions for political deadlock by resorting to the Constitution was another way the Taif Accord could be protected. The need to abide by the conclusions of the International Support Group for Lebanon, adopted in 2013 and 2014, was also stressed by the draft.

The ISGL was set up in 2013 to help Lebanon cope with the implications of the brutal Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011.

Amending the Constitution to take into account salient issues – endorsing an electoral law based on proportional representation, involving women and expatriates in government, reducing the age limit for voters to 18 and endorsing a wide administrative decentralization system – is important to protect the country from further discord, the draft said.

Also important is establishing a balanced development plan that touches on social and environmental issues that would involve the private sector alongside the public sector.

The draft put a lot of emphasis on using politics to serve the economy and build a state that focuses on the needs of citizens while being transparent in its functions.

The Gathering of the Republic will include a general body that constitutes 50 to 70 people from different sects and areas. The body is set to meet at least once a month, depending on the need.

An executive council or executive committee will be established and will be comprised of between eight to 12 members from the general body. A secretariat will also be formed and will be expected to include experts, media professionals and administrators who will work under the supervision of the executive council.

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