BEIRUT: Lebanon’s national dialogue sessions, which were intended to resolve a number of deadlocks including the presidency, were suspended Monday over a lack of progress.
Several officials leaving Speaker Nabih Berri's residence in Beirut's Ain al-Tineh told reporters that a lack of consensus and a determination by some to obstruct state institutions have rendered further talks pointless.
"There is no need for dialogue if [rivals] don't [explicitly] acknowledge our existence," Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil said after the meeting.
He hinted that his party may boycott further national dialogue sessions over what he says is the under-representation of Christians in the government.
Lebanon’s unwritten National Charter requires Muslims and Christians to equally share power.
"We (FPM) tackled the National Charter during dialogue and the meaning of national partnership,” he said. “The situation can't be as it was between 1990 and 2005, when Christian leadership was absent.”
Former Minister Ghazi Aridi, who represented Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt at the meeting, said that the session "ended contrary to what we want and accept, which means it has been suspended."
However, he called for intensive consultations to end the political deadlock and to resolve the growing number of disputes that are hobbling the government.
There were reports that Bassil and Marada Movement chief Sleiman Frangieh got into an argument over equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians.
Frangieh, who is running against MP Michel Aoun for president, reportedly said to Bassil: "Who are you and what do you represent? You failed to garner the needed votes during the last parliamentary elections."
Frangieh stressed to reporters that he rejects the tone that was used in talks.
"They want me to cancel myself, which I will not accept," Frangieh said, and added that he expects further complications. He speculated that the decision to suspend further dialogue sessions was made prior to Monday’s session.
Tensions between the FPM and other political factions increased recently over key military appointments, prompting the party to boycott the last Cabinet session at the Grand Serail.
National dialogue participants on Monday were expected to discuss the formation of a committee tasked with fleshing out the bylaws of a senate and a new parliamentary electoral law.
Though some said that a three-day national dialogue session at Berri’s residence last month was also unproductive, the rhetoric after that session wasn’t as negative. Though it failed to produce a breakthrough in Lebanon's most pressing issues, such as the absence of a president and the creation of a new electoral law, participants referred an administrative decentralization proposal to Parliament’s joint committees and attempted to establish workshops to pave the way for the establishment of a senate, as required by the Taif Accord.
The Taif Accord, written in 1989, brought about the end to the Civil War in 1990.
According to the agreement, a national parliament would be elected based solely on parity between Christian and Muslim MPs.
The accord stipulates that a senate is established in order to ensure that the rights of various confessions are preserved. It also requires administrative functions to be decentralized. But 27 years after the Taif Accord was signed, none of these stipulations have been met other than Parliament, which is divided equally between Christian and Muslim sects.