Editor-In-Chief: Charbel Baini

Sleiman ruffles feathers in Australia

By Hasan Lakkis The Daily Star  
(The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra/HO) 
BEIRUT: Australian authorities are irritated by President Michel Sleiman’s call for Australians of Lebanese origins to get engaged in Lebanese politics, diplomatic sources told The Daily Star Sunday.
The sources said that during Sleiman’s visit to Australia last week, Australian authorities informed the president’s delegation of their annoyance with Sleiman’s attempts to involve Australians of Lebanese origins in political affairs which bear no relation to Australia.
According to the sources, Australia believes that any Australian, whether of Middle Eastern or other origins, should have no “national” political affiliation other than with Australia as long as he or she has become an Australian citizen.
During his visit, Sleiman visited with members of the Lebanese community and stressed what he considered their right to take part in 2013 parliamentary elections, promising that polls would be held on time and that their participation would be allowed.
He encouraged expatriates to register their names in embassies and consulates. Although Lebanese expatriates were granted the right to vote in parliamentary elections in 2008, some officials are worried that the mechanism for out-of-country voting won’t be ready in time.
Sleiman said that he did not expect a high expatriate turnout for the 2013 elections, but didn’t consider this important as he voiced confidence that such turnout would gradually increase over the years.
The president said that Lebanon’s concern for its expatriates would encourage them to care for their homeland in return.
Which election law will be adopted in next year’s general election is currently the subject of heated debate, with Sleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri supporting proportional representation while Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt openly opposes it.
The sources called it unacceptable that a guest in Australia, namely Sleiman, would ask Australians of Lebanese origin to interfere in the politics of the country from where the guest originated.
In a number of speeches during his visit, Sleiman tackled Lebanese politics, stressing that political assassinations would not hit the country again.
“We have respectful security forces that are fully ready, after a long period of neglect, to uncover crimes quickly and within a few days. This is reassuring because it prevents assassinations. There will be no return to assassinations in Lebanon,” he said.
His assurances came in light of fears expressed by some March 14 officials about a return to political assassinations after Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea survived an attempt on his life on April 4.
The president also voiced concerns over the yearlong crisis in neighboring Syria, which he said is linked to Lebanon by “strong family, geographical and historical ties.”
“I hope that [Syria] will transition to democracy peacefully and smoothly and that the Syrians will talk to each other without the intervention of anyone to find the best way to apply democracy.”
The sources explained that Mexican authorities conveyed a similar message to Lebanon following Sleiman’s visit to Mexico earlier this year.
  

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