BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri said Tuesday he supported holding parliamentary elections on time despite the unstable security situation and threats by Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups to carry out terror attacks in Lebanon as a sequel to the violent fallout from Syria and Iraq.
Berri was quoted by visitors as saying he endorsed last year’s extension of Parliament’s mandate by 17 months because a war was raging on between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the northern city of Tripoli and because of Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir’s anti-government movement in the southern city of Sidon.
“My [electoral] district are the Sidon province’s villages and I could not make electoral tours in them. Therefore, I, [MP] Walid Jumblatt and the Future Movement supported the extension [of Parliament’s mandate},” Berri was quoted as saying.
“Today the security situation is better. Fears of threats and attacks from abroad have existed all the time. There is more than one party that can carry out [these attacks]: terrorists and Israel,” he said, adding: “But circumstances now allow holding the [parliamentary] polls. Our position on the current [1960 electoral] law is that we were the last to support it.”
The speaker’s remarks come amid growing fears that the presidential election deadlock, now in its second month, could lead to another extension of Parliament’s term.
Berri, according to the visitors, reiterated the Amal Movement’s stance that supported holding parliamentary elections as scheduled in November based on the 1960 law if agreement was not reached on a new electoral legislation.
“This stance is now new. I have said it at the last National Dialogue session on March 5 when there was talk about a constituent conference and a tripartite [power-sharing] formula. I responded by denying [the reports on] the constituent conference and the tripartite formula, insisting instead on the Taif Accord and the reasons that prevented its implementation,” he was quoted as saying.
In response to a question from former President Michel Sleiman during the National Dialogue sessions about an electoral law, Berri said he supported a large electoral district across Lebanon, but if this proposal was not adopted, “I support medium districts with voting on a proportional basis.”
Berri was asked by visitors how can parliamentary elections be held after which the Cabinet is obligated under the Constitution to resign and who would hold consultations to form a new government in the absence of a president.
“The date of elections sn the last Sunday before Nov. 20 at the utmost to hold them. We should have elected a president before May 25 and yesterday before today,” he was quoted as saying. He added that he would assume that the presidential election should take place before the end of Parliament’s term.
Berri said he had told Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk that his ministry should issue the official invitation to voters by Aug. 20 and the date for holding the elections should be set between Sept. 20 and Nov. 20.
Machnouk’s response, according to Berri, was that the minister was making preparations for the parliamentary elections but he voiced security concerns over an attack on Roumieh prison.
Berri criticized March 14 lawmakers who have boycotted legislative sessions on the pretext that Parliament should not legislate while the presidency seat remained vacant.
“There is insistence on obstructing its role until this Parliament has become almost like a mirage,” he was quoted as saying. “The country today is like a human body without a head.”
On the status of the Cabinet, the speaker was quoted as saying: “If Parliament is powerless, the government is toothless.”