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Berri’s bloc visits Christian leaders over election

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, center, heads a meeting of the Parliament's secretariat in Beirut, Thursday, March 27, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

BEIRUT: A parliamentary committee from Speaker Nabih Berri’s bloc visited Christian leaders Thursday, kicking off the first round of meetings with Lebanese officials to discuss the upcoming presidential election.

The three-member body held talks with MP Michel Murr, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Kataeb Party head Amine Gemayel.

The committee will visit Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai next week, according to one of its members.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Murr said that discussions highlighted the need to have Lebanese MPs elect their president without foreign intervention.

“We discussed names of candidates who have various political affiliations, but we did not focus on a specific name as it is still early,” Murr said.

He added that the talks focused on the possibility of convening a Parliament session with a quorum to elect a president.

Berri formed the committee earlier this week and tasked it with visiting various leaders and heads of parliamentary blocs to inquire about their opinions of possible presidential candidates. The committee is comprised of MPs Ali Osseiran, Yassin Jaber and Michel Musa.

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

There are fears of a presidential vacuum, should the events of 2007 repeat themselves, when the rival March 8 and March 14 groups failed to agree on one presidential candidate. Parliament could not convene back then for lack of quorum.

Murr said he believed all MPs should be present at the Parliament once the speaker calls for a session to elect a president.

Murr added that he had no problem with any “serious” presidential candidate, whether he was an independent or from the March 8 or March 14 coalitions, so long as he enjoyed a majority vote.

For his part, Jaber told a local media outlet that the committee would visit Rai Monday.

The MP said that the committee would not be discussing names of potential presidential candidates but “the need for lawmakers to attend the [Parliament] session to elect a president.”

“We do not want to call for a session that cannot convene,” he said.

Jaber added that the committee’s mission would be over within days, adding that Berri had begun efforts to foster a suitable atmosphere to convene a session and elect a president.

On Tuesday, Rai urged Berri to convene a Parliament session as soon as possible in order to elect a new head of state, rather than consult officials over the matter.

Jaber said the committee would not hold consultations with the Future Movement, saying Berri had already held talks with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora Tuesday. Siniora heads the Future parliamentary bloc.

Future Movement lawmaker Khaled Zahraman said that the March 14 coalition had yet to select its presidential candidate: “It will not be easy, but discussions will lead to picking one candidate.”

“Every candidate within the March 14 group believes that it is his right to be the candidate,” Zahraman told a local radio station. “All this will be put on the table, and the best candidate will be chosen based on certain characteristics or by voting.”

Separately, the speaker chaired a meeting at his Ain al-Tineh residence for Parliament’s Secretariat to discuss the agenda of next week’s legislative session.

Parliament will convene twice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the morning and the afternoon to discuss an agenda, which includes 70 draft laws.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, MP Marwan Hamade, a member of the Secretariat, said that the session’s agenda included a number of important draft laws.

“Among the important draft laws is one on higher education ... and there is a draft law which interests all Lebanese women and most Lebanese, which is a draft law to protect women from domestic violence,” Hamade said.

Also on the agenda are draft laws to hold exams for contract workers at Electricité du Liban to make them full timers, to amend the rent rules and to adopt proportional representation during parliamentary elections.

Next week’s session will be the first legislation session Parliament has held since 2012.

Asked whether a draft law to increase the salaries of public sector employees and teachers was on the agenda, Hamade said this depended on the outcome of a session of parliamentary joint committees that would meet Friday to discuss the draft law.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

A parliamentary committee from Speaker Nabih Berri's bloc visited Christian leaders Thursday, kicking off the first round of meetings with Lebanese officials to discuss the upcoming presidential election.

Berri formed the committee earlier this week and tasked it with visiting various leaders and heads of parliamentary blocs to inquire about their opinions of possible presidential candidates. The committee is comprised of MPs Ali Osseiran, Yassin Jaber and Michel Musa.

Murr said he believed all MPs should be present at the Parliament once the speaker calls for a session to elect a president.

Jaber added that the committee's mission would be over within days, adding that Berri had begun efforts to foster a suitable atmosphere to convene a session and elect a president.

Parliament will convene twice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the morning and the afternoon to discuss an agenda, which includes 70 draft laws.


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