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Berri, Jumblatt seek deal to break impasse on presidency

PSP leader Walid Jumblatt visits former Minister Ghazi Aridi in Baysour, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt are working together on a political compromise to break the 3-month-old presidential stalemate, both leaders said Sunday.

But the two leaders refused to disclose details of their proposals that would eventually set the stage for the election of a new president.

“I am working with MP Jumblatt on ideas to reach a political compromise to break the presidential election gridlock,” Berri was quoted by visitors as saying. “I don’t want to talk about these ideas now so that they would not be scuttled.”

Commenting on a draft proposal by MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement to amend the Constitution to allow the president to be elected via a popular vote, Berri said this matter could be discussed by Parliament only when it starts its ordinary session on Oct. 21.

He added that Parliament is now in an extraordinary session to elect a new president.

Earlier in the day, Jumblatt said he was working with Berri, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and other politicians to reach a compromise to resolve the presidential crisis, warning that a vacuum in the top Christian post was destructive for the country.

“The presidency post is not only for the Christians, but for all the Lebanese. The vacuum is destructive and weakens Lebanon. Therefore, there should be a compromise,” Jumblatt told a rally in the Aley village of Keyfoun. “I’ll see with Speaker Berri, Sayyed Hasan and also with other politicians how we can reach a compromise [over the presidential crisis].”

Jumblatt, whose Progressive Socialist Party has nominated Aley MP Henri Helou as its candidate for the presidency, has reached out to rival political leaders, including Berri, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Nasrallah and Aoun to discuss how to break the presidential stalemate that has paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening to cripple the government’s work.

He plans to meet with Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea for the same purpose.

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 presidency seat.The presidential stalemate has boosted the chances of a new extension of Parliament’s mandate, which expires on Nov. 20, in a bid supposedly aimed at averting a vacuum in all constitutional institutions.

However, Jumblatt’s call for compromise over the presidential logjam was spurned by the FPM, which argued that compromises in the past had weakened the Christian role in the country’s power-sharing formula.

Asked to comment on Jumblatt’s call, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, told LBCI TV station Sunday: “We are against compromises if they are like those that have happened since 1990. These compromises did not serve the Christians, nor did they make the Muslims better.”

“The Free Patriotic Movement will not accept the continued marginalization of the Christians,” he added.

Kanaan defended the FPM’s draft proposal to amend the Constitution to allow the president to be elected directly by the people. “Our proposal is designed to liberate the presidency position from pressures and will give the Christians a dose of hope and confidence in their role, position and rights,” he said.

The FPM’s draft proposal drew scorn from Aoun’s Christian rivals, the Kataeb Party and the LF as well as the Future Movement.

In his speech in Keyfoun, Jumblatt called for supporting the Lebanese Army in its battle against terrorism and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) following the deadly clashes earlier this month between troops and Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in the northeastern town of Arsal.

He also rejected the argument that Hezbollah and ISIS were of a similar nature, saying that any comparisons linking the two were nothing more than “political heresy.”

“Supporting the Army is essential and our battle against terrorism and ISIS is still at the beginning,” Jumblatt said. “Likening Hezbollah to ISIS is political heresy. It is an act of foolishness ... We have only one enemy called ISIS.”

He was apparently responding to Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, who said in a TV interview that ISIS and Hezbollah are similar in nature.

For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai blamed the rival factions’ unyielding positions for the presidential stalemate. He urged parliamentary blocs to take “bold initiatives” to ensure a quorum for the next session, set for Sept. 2, to elect a president.

“Upholding a personal viewpoint as an absolute matter and calling on the other to accept it has brought political and parliamentary blocs to the predicament of failing to elect a president and thwarting a quorum in electoral sessions,” Rai said during Sunday Mass.

“After five months and 10 aborted electoral sessions, I call on political and parliamentary blocs to take bold initiatives before the Sept. 2 session to remove the barriers that blocked a quorum and the election of a president,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 25, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt are working together on a political compromise to break the 3-month-old presidential stalemate, both leaders said Sunday.

Commenting on a draft proposal by MP Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement to amend the Constitution to allow the president to be elected via a popular vote, Berri said this matter could be discussed by Parliament only when it starts its ordinary session on Oct. 21 .

Earlier in the day, Jumblatt said he was working with Berri, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and other politicians to reach a compromise to resolve the presidential crisis, warning that a vacuum in the top Christian post was destructive for the country.

Jumblatt, whose Progressive Socialist Party has nominated Aley MP Henri Helou as its candidate for the presidency, has reached out to rival political leaders, including Berri, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Nasrallah and Aoun to discuss how to break the presidential stalemate that has paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening to cripple the government's work.


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