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Berri: Parliament extension possible if no new president by mid-August

Berri said Lebanon was a safe haven compared to the other counties in its surrounding, highlighting the need to protect the country. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri signaled Thursday a possible extension of Parliament’s mandate if a new president was not elected by mid August, in the first strong indication that parliamentary polls, scheduled in November, could not be held.

Berri also told visitors at his residence in Ain al-Tineh that the outcome of his Amal Movement’s ongoing dialogue with the Future Movement on key political issues was negative, which had led to scuttling a Parliament session this week on the extra-budgetary spending to pay salaries of civil servants.

Berri’s remarks come on the eve of an important speech by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri who is expected to make a proposal to help break the presidential election stalemate, now in its second month.

Hariri will address in a televised speech Friday night Future and March 14 politicians during an iftar hosted by the Future Movement at the BIEL complex in Beirut.

No details about Hariri’s proposal have emerged. But Future MP Ammar Houri said Hariri’s speech would address all issues under discussion and “resolve matters in a way to comfort the people.”

“[Former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri has always been a source of positive proposals,” Houri told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

In the third round of talks between the Amal and Future Movements, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Nader Hariri, head of Saad Hariri’s office met at the Finance Ministry Thursday night to discuss the political deadlock. The meeting was attended by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, who belongs to the parliamentary bloc of MP Walid Jumblatt who has arranged the Future-Amal dialogue.

Berri called Thursday for a Parliament session next week to elect a new president, the ninth attempt in less than four months.

But, in the absence of an agreement between the March 8 and March 14 parties on a consensus candidate, the new session, set at noon Wednesday, is destined to fail like previous ones over lack of quorum because of an expected boycott by lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc and Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, political sources said.

The presidential vacuum has paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening the Cabinet’s work amid growing fears that the failure to elect a president could lead to another extension of Parliament’s term.Asked about the possibility of renewing Parliament’s term again, Berri told visitors: “The smell [of extension] begins if we passed mid-August without electing a president because the extension [of Parliament’s mandate] would then become possible.”

Referring to the Future Movement’s argument that the beginning of the deadline for parliamentary polls and holding the elections without the election of a president would lead to the government’s resignation and there would be no president to hold binding consultations to name a prime minister, Berri said: “That’s why a president should be elected from now until August.”

He reiterated his stance that the security situation, despite threats of car bombings hanging over the country, allowed holding parliamentary elections on time “unless there was a major security development.”

Noting that the Interior Ministry was preparing for the elections, Berri was quoting as saying: “The failure to take precautions to conduct the elections will plunge the country into further vacuum: No president, no government and no Parliament.”

Asked about consultations to hold a legislative session to pass laws on extra-budgetary spending to pay civil servants’ salaries, Berri said: “There are no contacts or consultations. There will be no salaries for civil servants at the end of the month unless Parliament approves a law in this respect.”

He said he would not allow the law to be violated on the payment of salaries of public sector employees in the manner it had been adopted since 2005 as demanded by the Future Movement.

Declaring that the results of dialogue between the Amal Movement and the Future Movement to resolve key political issues, including the extra-budgetary spending, were negative, Berri told visitors: “They [Future] do not want a Parliament meeting. In this case, what will this Parliament do? It does not elect a president, nor does it legislate or monitor. Is it merely for the payment of lawmakers’ salaries?”

Meanwhile, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly underscored the urgency of ending presidential vacuum, which he said is affecting the proper functioning of state institutions, including Parliament.

“We agreed that the negative impact of the vacancy in the presidency on the work of state institutions across the board, including here in Parliament, is day by day more evident, underlining the importance of all concerned coming together to ensure the election of a president without further delay,” Plumbly said in a statement after meeting Berri at Ain al-Tineh.

The French Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli also called after meeting Berri for the election of a president as soon as possible. “This is the message from France to Lebanon through the Parliament speaker,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 18, 2014, on page 1.

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