Lebanon News

Berri says would back early presidential election

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri drinks water as he heads a Parliament session in Beirut, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The March 8 coalition would be willing to bring forward the presidential election in a bid to alley any concerns the March 14 alliance might have over the formation of the future government, Speaker Nabih Berri said in remarks published Monday.

“In order to assure [March 14 groups] that our intentions are good, we do not mind holding the presidential election from now,” Berri told the local As-Safir newspaper.

“Subsequently, there will no problem over the formation of a [new] government,” Berri said, noting that the precedent had occurred in 1970 when President Suleiman Franjieh was elected a few months before the constitutional deadline for the presidential election.

Berri was responding to the March 14 coalition, which has accused the Hezbollah-led March 8 camp of seeking a vacuum in the government and the post of the presidency.

In comments to Al-Jadeed television Monday, Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun said his party was still undecided on Berri's proposal to hold the election early.

“The bloc will discuss the matter tomorrow and will issue a decision on the matter,” he said.

President Michel Sleiman’s six-year-term ends on May 25. Lebanon enters a two-month constitutional period on March 25 to prepare for the election of the next head of state.

The March 14 favors a neutral, non-partisan government while the March 8 alliance has called for the formation of national unity government.

Berri, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have warned against the formation of a neutral, nonpartisan Cabinet, which they refer to as fait accompli government.

In his comments to As-Safir, Berri confirmed that a new proposal for a three-eight Cabinet lineup has been floated by politicians to end the government stalemate that has been running since Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam was nominated in early 2013.

However, political sources told The Daily Star Sunday that the proposal put forward by Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt has already failed to make a breakthrough in the political deadlock after it was rebuffed by Salam.

The sources also said that the March 14 proposal for a neutral, nonpartisan government has not been entirely dropped by Sleiman and Salam despite last week’s car bomb in Beirut’s southern suburbs that killed four people and wounded more than 70.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea rejected outright an all-embracing government, one that would include Hezbollah.

“We do not want an all-inclusive government and we would not sit with Hezbollah in the government,” Geagea told the local daily Al-Akhbar.

He insisted on pushing for the presidential election.

Geagea also rejected what he said was a European effort to reach a settlement on a new a head of state.

“We reject this [European attempt] and we insist on sticking to the democratic game and for MPs to go to Parliament to elect who they want,” he said.





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