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Berri: We will work to hold election on time

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

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday he was eager to hold a successful Parliament session to elect Lebanon’s new president, as possible candidate Samir Geagea began revealing details of the policies he would implement if elected.

MPs attending Berri’s weekly meeting with lawmakers Wednesday quoted the speaker as saying that he was keen on working to hold a Parliament session to elect a president.

“The parliamentary committee he formed has begun taking appointments with officials and heads of parliamentary blocs,” one MP told reporters after the meeting.

Earlier this week, Berri formed a three-member committee from his parliamentary bloc tasked with sounding out the opinions of various political parties on their possible candidates for the presidency. The body, comprising MPs Ali Osseiran, Yassine Jaber and Michel Moussa, will present the speaker with the outcome of its deliberations within 10 days.

The two-month period to elect a new president began Tuesday. President Michel Sleiman’s term expires on May 25.

The lawmakers also said Berri informed them that he would call for a three-day legislative session to convene next week with a long agenda. If held, next week’s session would be the first legislative session since 2012.

One of the most long-awaited draft laws is an increase to the salaries of public sector employees and teachers, which will be on the agenda so long as parliamentary joint committees finish studying it during a session Friday, the MPs said.

Sleiman will chair a Cabinet meeting Thursday, the first after the government won a vote of confidence last week. He will also head a National Dialogue session at Baabda Palace Monday. The last Dialogue session was held in September 2012.

The MPs said Berri highlighted the importance of giving momentum to legislation awaiting approval now that Parliament was meeting again, adding that the legislature would hold more than one session before Sleiman’s term expires.

Commenting on Parliament’s session last week that debated the Cabinet policy statement, Berri said he tried his best to preserve calm during the discussions.

Berri said he hoped the new Cabinet of Prime Minister Tammam Salam would address the pressing needs of the Lebanese, particularly the deteriorating security situation.

Separately, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said he was a “natural candidate” to succeed Sleiman, and vowed to pull Hezbollah out of Syria if elected as Lebanon’s next head of state.

“I am a natural candidate for the presidency ... I am the head of the most popular party among Christians according to statistics, thus it is natural for my name to be among the first candidates for the presidency,” Geagea told Al-Arabiya television in an interview aired late Tuesday. “But I will wait for the right moment to officially announce my candidacy.”Geagea said his priority if elected president would be to “pull Hezbollah out of Syria” but added that he wouldn’t mind allying with the party if it changed its strategy, ideology and policy.

Geagea said it was impossible that the Future Movement would back Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s candidacy.

Kataeb MP Elie Marouni said his party’s leader, former President Amine Gemayel, had not yet made up his mind about whether to run.

“Gemayel is a potential candidate, but he hasn’t made the final decision yet, as the constitutional period to elect a new president has just started,” Marouni told a media outlet.

The Zahle lawmaker said the March 14 coalition needed to agree on one presidential candidate.

“If we have various candidates, then divisions will emerge within the March 14 coalition,” Marouni said.

For his part, Maronite Patriach Beshara Rai called on Berri to convene Parliament as soon as possible in order to begin voting on a possible candidate.

“I call on Speaker [Nabih] Berri to convene a series of parliamentary sessions starting Monday and as soon as possible, regardless of quorum,” Rai told LBCI in an interview Tuesday.

“He [Berri] should not start consultations with the blocs first, but he should convene a legislative session so that lawmakers can name preferred candidates,” Rai said.

Political sources told The Daily Star that Sleiman would keep the date of the Dialogue session Monday, adding that whoever boycotted the session would have to shoulder the consequences of his acts before the Lebanese people.

All citizens, Muslims and Christians, should be interested in Dialogue and not only the president, the sources said.

Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces have yet to confirm their attendance of the all-embracing talks.

Commenting on Thursday’s Cabinet session, the sources said Sleiman would urge ministers to increase their productivity.

The sources added that the president would also stress the need for solidarity between ministers and to avoid tensions within the Cabinet.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 27, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday he was eager to hold a successful Parliament session to elect Lebanon's new president, as possible candidate Samir Geagea began revealing details of the policies he would implement if elected.

MPs attending Berri's weekly meeting with lawmakers Wednesday quoted the speaker as saying that he was keen on working to hold a Parliament session to elect a president.

The lawmakers also said Berri informed them that he would call for a three-day legislative session to convene next week with a long agenda. If held, next week's session would be the first legislative session since 2012 .

Commenting on Parliament's session last week that debated the Cabinet policy statement, Berri said he tried his best to preserve calm during the discussions.

"If we have various candidates, then divisions will emerge within the March 14 coalition," Marouni said.

For his part, Maronite Patriach Beshara Rai called on Berri to convene Parliament as soon as possible in order to begin voting on a possible candidate.


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