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Lebanon News

Berri to consult bloc leaders as presidential race gets underway

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a Parliament session in Beirut, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: The presidential battle gathers steam this week, with Speaker Nabih Berri to begin consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs aimed at securing a quorum for a Parliament session to elect a new president, political sources said Monday.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam, meanwhile, linked an improvement in the country’s precarious security and economic situation to holding the presidential election on time.

“Speaker Berri has formed a committee from his parliamentary bloc tasked with sounding out the opinions of various political parties on their possible candidates for the presidency,” a political source told The Daily Star.

The committee, comprising MPs Ali Osseiran, Michel Moussa and Yassine Jaber, will present its findings to Berri within 10 days, as the speaker consults with heads of parliamentary blocs on a suitable date for a Parliament session to elect a new president, the source said.

Lebanon Tuesday begins the two-month constitutional deadline for Parliament to elect a new president. Under the Constitution, the speaker is to convene Parliament to elect a new president two months before the expiration of President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term on May 25.

In addition to leaders of parliamentary blocs on both sides of the political divide, Berri is also expected to consult with Patriarch Beshara Rai, the head of the Maronite Church, which usually has a major say in the election of a new president.

The source ruled out the possibility of electing a new president in April or early May, given the fierce competition between the March 8 and March 14 blocs for the presidency.

“Most probably, the presidential election will take place in the last week before the two-month constitutional deadline expires on May 25,” the source said.

He added that there has been no change in the attitudes of regional and international powers, which have repeatedly called for the presidential vote to be held on time in order to avoid a vacuum.

Berri said the three-member committee would work in tandem with his own consultation to ensure the presidential vote is held on time.

He has said that a presidential candidate needed the votes of two-thirds of the 128 lawmakers to be declared a winner in the first round of voting, while in the second round he could be elected with an absolute majority.

For his part, Salam said holding the presidential election on time would have a positive impact on the overall situation in Lebanon.

Describing the situation before the formation of his government on Feb. 15 as “bad,” Salam said at a meeting with journalists Grand Serail employees: “The situation in the country will not improve and become promising unless the presidential election is held within these two months.”

Noting that his government was formed under “very difficult circumstances,” he said: “We have a basic mission to accomplish: the presidential election. If this achievement is made within two months, we will have achieved an extremely important matter for the country, which is to affirm our democratic system and our democratic practice.”

“Therefore, achieving this goal will boost our democratic path, open a new page for the whole country and reassure the people that matters are on the right track,” Salam added.

Before leaving for Kuwait to attend the Arab summit to be held Tuesday, Sleiman met Salam to discuss the security situation in the country as well as the agenda of the Cabinet’s first session scheduled for Thursday at Baabda Palace, the National News Agency reported.

Salam’s 24-member coalition government easily won a vote of confidence in Parliament last week, ending almost a year of political stalemate.

Sleiman also met U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale at Baabda Palace to discuss bilateral relations, U.S. military aid to the Lebanese Army and the situation in the region, the NNA said.

The Kataeb Party said it counted on the new Cabinet to set the stage for holding the election in order “to prevent any vacuum in the presidency seat.”

A statement issued after a meeting of the party’s Political Bureau urged the Parliament speaker to set a date for session to elect a new president soon, rather than wait till the eleventh hour.

Also, a committee representing the four main Maronite parties – the Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Marada Movement – stressed the need for the presidential election to be held on time.

“The presidential election should be held as Parliament’s national duty on the constitutional date in order to bring in a new president capable of shouldering his national responsibilities effectively,” the committee, which met under Rai in Bkirki, said in a statement.

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

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