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Berri: It’s not too late to elect president, hold polls

File - Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri casts his vote to elect the new Lebanese president in the parliament building in downtown Beirut April 23, 2014. REUTERS/Joseph Eid/Pool

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri said Thursday there was still time to break the three-month-old presidential deadlock and for parliamentary elections to be held to avoid a possible extension of Parliament’s mandate.

“We have not yet crossed the red line [on the presidential election]. We can still elect a new president and hold parliamentary elections. We have a deadline that expires on Nov. 16,” Berri was quoted by visitors as saying.

He stressed that his top priority was the election of a new president to succeed former President Michel Sleiman. “For my part, I am playing a role in this respect,” he said.

Berri said his ideas to break the presidential impasse were close to those of MP Walid Jumblatt, who has held consultations with rival political leaders in an attempt to break the deadlock.

Asked to comment on the draft proposal presented by MP Michel Aoun’s Reform and Change bloc to elect the president by a popular vote, Berri said this matter required an amendment of the Constitution.

“Those who are obstructing the government’s work and Parliament’s legislative and monitoring work because of the vacancy in the presidency seat are violating the Constitution in a flagrant manner,” Berri was quoted as saying. “There is no state in the world whose constitutional institutions are disrupted in the event of a vacancy in its president’s post.”

Responding to calls by some politicians to persuade Aoun to drop his candidacy for the presidency, Berri said: “I have spoken with him and others must also speak with him.”

Berri’s remarks come after Parliament on Aug. 12 failed for the 10th time in four months to elect a new president over a lack of quorum, raising fears of a prolonged vacancy in the country’s top Christian post.

Earlier Thursday, 10 lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc submitted a draft proposal to amend the Constitution to allow the president to be elected via a popular vote. The draft law, which was presented by MP Ibrahim Kanaan to Adnan Daher, Parliament’s secretary-general, proposed a mechanism for the president to be elected directly by the Lebanese people as opposed to via their parliamentary representatives.

Kanaan will hold a news conference in Parliament Friday to explain the mechanism to implement the draft proposal.

The draft laws implements a proposal from Aoun, the March 8 coalition’s undeclared candidate for the presidency, to directly elect the head of state by the people and prevent a presidential vacuum from occurring in the future.

Aoun, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement, suggested on June 30 that Christians would vote in a first round, with the top two candidates then facing a public poll open to voters of all sects.

However, Aoun’s proposal drew fire from his political rivals in the March 14 coalition who dismissed it as “strange and impractical.”

Separately, the Lebanese Forces hit back at its Christian rivals in the FPM, with MP Fadi Karam saying that creating fear among Christians only leads to conflict.

“We witnessed attempts by some people to intimidate Christians and incite sectarian strife by exaggerating the threats in order to gain popular support at the expense of people’s interests,” Karam said at an LF ceremony in Ehmej in the Jbeil district. He was referring to remarks from Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil that the climate in Lebanon’s political arena had done much to marginalize Christians.

Speaking after the weekly meeting of the Change and Reform bloc chaired by Aoun, Bassil Wednesday likened the exodus of Christians from Iraq to the vacancy in the top Christian post in Lebanon, saying that the FPM rejected the absence of “indigenous Christians” from Mosul and Baabda Palace.

A member of the Future bloc also implicitly accused the FPM of weakening the Christians in Lebanon by blocking the presidential election with its boycott of electoral sessions.

Referring to Bassil’s statement about the threat to the Christians in the region posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), MP Atef Majdalani told the Future TV station: “Those who speak about the ISIS danger to the nation and sects are right. But unfortunately, some are talking about the ISIS danger but are helping with their daily and essential practices in the weakening of the Christians.”

“How can we explain that there is a Christian side concerned with the presidential election that does not show up in Parliament, while claiming to be confronting ISIS?” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 22, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Speaker Nabih Berri said Thursday there was still time to break the three-month-old presidential deadlock and for parliamentary elections to be held to avoid a possible extension of Parliament's mandate.

Asked to comment on the draft proposal presented by MP Michel Aoun's Reform and Change bloc to elect the president by a popular vote, Berri said this matter required an amendment of the Constitution.

Berri's remarks come after Parliament on Aug. 12 failed for the 10th time in four months to elect a new president over a lack of quorum, raising fears of a prolonged vacancy in the country's top Christian post.

Speaking after the weekly meeting of the Change and Reform bloc chaired by Aoun, Bassil Wednesday likened the exodus of Christians from Iraq to the vacancy in the top Christian post in Lebanon, saying that the FPM rejected the absence of "indigenous Christians" from Mosul and Baabda Palace.


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