Lebanon News

Berri adjourns parliamentary session to elect president

Lawmakers gather at the General Assembly hall for a a third round of presidential election, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri adjourned Wednesday the second round of presidential election after several lawmakers boycotted the Parliamentary session, which failed to secure quorum.

Only 76 MPs were present in the General Assembly hall by 12 p.m. prompting Berri to delay the start by half an hour in order to allow more time for lawmakers to arrive.

MP Bahia Hariri was the first lawmaker to leave the hall minutes before the speaker adjourned the session and scheduled the third round of presidential election for May 7.

A two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members is required for any electoral session.

MP Walid Jumblatt was seen leaving parliament amid light security, driving his own SUV with his aide, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, in the passenger's seat.

Berri held separate meetings with Jumblatt as well as Future bloc head MP Fouad Siniora, Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Education Minister Elias Abu Saab upon their arrival in Nejmeh Square earlier in the day.

During talks with Berri, Abu Saab briefed the speaker on Tuesday’s meeting between former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil, dispatched by MP Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement.

FPM lawmakers told The Daily Star that Hariri will hold contacts with his allies in the March 14 coalition in hopes of reaching an agreement before the May 25 deadline to elect a new president.

The MPs, however, did not sound optimistic that such an agreement would be reached within the constitutional time frame.

Bassil and Hariri agreed during a meeting in Paris Tuesday to work on ensuring that the presidential election is held on time and to continue bilateral contacts

Ties between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement have thawed in recent months, with Aoun himself meeting Hariri in Paris in January.

Reports that Aoun and Hariri were close to cutting a deal over the FPM leader’s candidacy for the presidency have been denied by Future bloc MPs.

Minister of State Jean Ogassapian said the Future Movement would only make a decision regarding the presidential election after consulting its allies.

“There is not yet an alternative candidate for Samir Geagea,” Ogassapian told reporters.

Future MP Khaled Daher, who was absent from last week’s session, said he would attend Wednesday’s meeting in light of his commitment to the Future Movement.

“But I will not vote for Bashar Assad or his allies, rather for someone who will preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty and unity,” he said.

He also praised Geagea as an honest ally and “a fierce rival,” without saying whether he would vote in favor of the LF head as his colleagues are expected to do.

MP Ziad Aswad, Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, said he would not attend the session.

“I’m not going in because this is not a serious session to elect a president,” Aswad told The Daily Star before the meeting.

MPs in Aoun’s bloc, the second largest after Future bloc, boycotted the session in a bid to pressure the March 14 coalition to abandon their support of Geagea.

“If I were to attend, I would vote for Army officer Khalil Kanaan,” Aswad said, referring to an officer Geagea is accused of having killed during the Civil War.

Several lawmakers cast ballots with names of slain figures Geagea is accused of murdering during last week’s parliamentary election in which the LF head received 48 votes.

Geagea held a televised news conference from Maarab minutes after the session was adjourned, saying the March 8 group sought to impose their candidate on their rival.

“There is a scheme to have us agree to the candidate of the other group or they will force a presidential vacuum ... by boycotting the session,” Geagea said.

He also slammed the Change and Reform bloc MPs for failing to attend the session, saying the lawmakers were not respecting the democratic process.

“[Boycotting sessions] is not their democratic right ... it demonstrates the intention of the parliamentarians,” Geagea said.

Barbed wires were used to seal off major entrances to Parliament headquarters in Downtown Beirut ahead of the session.

A few meters away from Parliament, the General Labor Confederation held a sit-in to coincide with the meeting.

The GLC said the strike was a show of support for the Union Coordination Committee which rallied Tuesday to protest the delay in approving a controversial new salary scale.





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