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Jumblatt reaches out to break deadlock

Speaker Nabih Berri, right, receives Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Minister Wael Abu Faour in Beirut, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

BEIRUT: MP Walid Jumblatt’s recent meetings with Lebanese leaders were aimed at safeguarding civil peace and breaking the political impasse, sources said Wednesday, as rival MPs hinted another extension of Parliament’s term could become inevitable.

Jumblatt, who met Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah over the weekend, visited Speaker Nabih Berri Tuesday, while former Prime Minister Saad Hariri telephoned the Progressive Socialist Party leader Monday to exchange greetings for Eid al-Fitr, a statement said.

PSP Secretary-General Zafer Nasser said Jumblatt’s meetings with Nasrallah and Berri were aimed at preserving stability in Lebanon and finding a solution to the presidential deadlock, ahead of the scheduled date for Parliamentary elections in November.

“You cannot address these problems without communication and direct dialogue. These meetings aim at exerting more efforts to protect civil peace,” Nasser said. He added that talks were also necessary to pass the wage hike for the public sector.

Sources familiar with the meetings told The Daily Star that contrary to Jumblatt’s assurances that he did not discuss the presidential election with either Berri or Nasrallah, the three tackled the latest relevant developments in depth.

The sources said Jumblatt’s statement after the meeting, indirectly blaming Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and head of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun for the presidential deadlock, were an indication of the stance he took with Berri and Nasrallah.

Jumblatt said contacts between Health Minister Wael Abu Faour and Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil to ensure Parliament’s endorsement of the salary scale were ongoing. Both ministers attended the talks.

Jumblatt added that he hoped the issue would be resolved soon, saying contacts would include other parties.

Sources close to the PSP told The Daily Star that Jumblatt and Nasrallah did not discuss presidential candidates, as Jumblatt was aware the Hezbollah chief insisted on backing Aoun for the presidency. Still, the two agreed on the need to hold a presidential election as soon as possible.

The same sources added that Nasrallah and Jumblatt would eventually agree on the need to extend Parliament’s term, particularly if the presidential void persisted.

The sources added, however, that further consultations were required with various blocs to secure the number of MPs needed to pass a law to extend Parliament’s term and to agree on the period of the extension.

Parliament extended its term for 17 months last May after rival parties failed to agree on a new election law and amid deteriorating security. The sources said that information they got from local politicians indicated the presidential election would not be held anytime soon.

The sources said the March 14 coalition’s support for Geagea’s candidacy, known as “Plan A,” would persist as long as Hezbollah insisted on supporting Aoun.

The problem did not lie with Geagea, who has voiced his willingness to withdraw his candidacy and back a consensus candidate, sources said, adding this would be “Plan B.”

The sources said Jumblatt’s talks with Berri and Nasrallah might have been motivated by the possibility of having new candidates that would be amenable to Aoun and March 14.

Political sources said Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s recent speech in which he said that the Constitution did not stipulate that a two-thirds quorum was required to elect a president was an attempt by the head of the Maronite Church to break the presidential deadlock. But the sources added that some legal experts had advised Rai to refrain from starting this debate, as electing a president with a quorum of absolute majority would allow Muslim MPs to impose their preferred candidate.

Meanwhile, Future bloc MP Mohammad Hajjar warned rivals in the March 8 alliance Wednesday that if they did not cooperate to elect a new president, they would face a definite extension of the Parliament’s term.

“The Future Movement is eager to conduct the parliamentary elections on time, on the condition that they are preceded by presidential elections,” Hajjar told a local radio station. “But whoever really wants to go into parliamentary elections should [first] pave the way for the election of a new president,” he added. “If the [presidential] election doesn’t take place, extension will definitely occur.”

Similarly, MP Yassin Jaber from Berri’s bloc told Voice of Lebanon the extension of the Parliament’s term was “odious but permissible.”

Separately, the annual military parade to mark Army Day will be held as usual at the Military Academy Friday, said sources familiar with the issue.

However, the sources said graduating officers would only receive their swords once Lebanon has a new president, as only the head of state can perform this function during Army Day celebrations.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 31, 2014, on page 1.

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