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March 14 MPs ready to meet on election law

March 14 MPs stand a minute of silence in support of Syrian uprising as other lawmakers stay seated at the Parliament in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, March 15, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Despite the March 14 boycott of the government and all Cabinet-related sessions in Parliament, the coalition’s MPs are ready to attend meetings of a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with studying controversial proposals for a new election law, Future MP Ammar Houri said Monday.

However, the March 14 move fell short of the opposition’s ending its boycott of the government because the subcommittee does not include any Cabinet member or representative.

Houri said the subcommittee, which includes MPs from the March 8 and March 14 parties, should meet at the residence of one of the March 14 lawmakers for security reasons.

“There are security risks that prevent March 14 MPs from going to Parliament to attend the [subcommittee’s] meeting,” Houri told The Daily Star.

He said that Deputy Speaker Farid Makari from the March 14 coalition had spoken with Speaker Nabih Berri to inform him that March 14 MPs were ready to attend the subcommittee’s meeting at the residence of one of the March 14 lawmakers.

“The March 14 MPs are waiting for Berri’s response,” Houri said, adding that the speaker was consulting with March 8 lawmakers on the request.

“If the March 14 request was turned down, this means there will be no meeting of the subcommittee,” Houri said.

Following abortive assassination attempts against Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Batroun MP Butros Harb earlier this year, some March 14 MPs said they had received death threats that prompted them to restrict their movement and travel in the country.

Houri, who belongs to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc, insisted that the March 14 lawmakers’ readiness to join their rival March 8 MPs in the subcommittee’s meetings on a new electoral law did not mean an end to the coalition’s boycott of the government and its demand for the formation of a neutral salvation Cabinet to oversee next year’s parliamentary elections.

The March 14 coalition’s boycott of last week’s National Dialogue session forced President Michel Sleiman to postpone the all-party talks to Jan. 7.

Lebanon was thrust into a political crisis after the Oct. 19 assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, head of the police’s Information Branch.

The March 14 coalition has since demanded the government’s resignation after accusing it of complicity with the Syrian regime in Hasan’s killing. The coalition has also demanded the formation of “a neutral salvation Cabinet” to supervise next year’s parliamentary elections before attending any Dialogue session.

Headed by Makari, the subcommittee, formed in October to mull controversial electoral draft laws, includes March 14 lawmakers Sami Gemayel, George Adwan, Ahmad Fatfat and Serge Torsarkissian. Its March 8 members are MPs Ali Bazzi, Alain Aoun, Ali Fayyad, Hagop Pakradounian, in addition to lawmaker Akram Shehayyeb, who belongs to MP Walid Jumblatt’s National Struggle Front. Committee member Future MP Fatfat cited security concerns for refusing to attend meetings in Parliament.

“I am not ready to take any security risk by going to Beirut to participate in this committee’s meetings unless security conditions were ensured for this purpose. This matter applies to MP Sami Gemayel and others,” Fatfat told LBCI TV.

He said the March 14 MPs’ participation in the subcommittee’s meetings did not mean an end to the coalition’s boycott of the government. “We are not boycotting Parliament but the meetings in which the Cabinet participates,” Fatfat added.

Last week, several March 14 lawmakers slammed as illegal attempts to convene parliamentary committees in the absence of their chairmen to discuss the electoral draft laws. After meeting at Harb’s residence, they decided to form a committee to meet with Berri to discuss with him ways to resolve the crisis.

Meanwhile, Sleiman reiterated his call on rival political leaders to return to National Dialogue in an attempt to resolve the current political crisis. He said that Dialogue was the only means to protect Lebanon from the repercussions and reverberations of the turmoil in the region.

Jumblatt also urged the March 8 and March 14 parties to return to Dialogue as the only way to defuse political and sectarian tensions fueled by deep divisions over the 20-month-old bloody conflict in neighboring Syria.

During a tour of Druze spiritual leaders in the Aley and Metn areas, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party spoke about efforts being made in order to preserve stability, protect civil peace and prevent strife.

Jumblatt stressed the need for “political and media pacification in order to defuse tension in the street and concentrate on Dialogue among all the parties as the only means to solve the current problems and overcome the current stage with a minimum of solidarity,” the state-run National News Agency reported.

Jumblatt’s remarks came as ministers from his parliamentary bloc met Monday with former President Amin Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb Party, as part of their contacts with the rival factions to promote the PSP’s political initiative aimed at bridging the wide gap between the March 8 and March 14 parties.

“We agreed with the PSP on most of their ideas, including positive neutrality, which requires cooperation among the Lebanese at all levels,” Gemayel told reporters after the meeting with Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour and Minister of Displaced Alaaeddine Terro at the Kataeb headquarters Beirut’s Saifi area.

Gemayel added that he agreed with the PSP delegation on the necessity of maintaining meetings, rejecting “divorce” between Lebanese groups.

For his part, Aridi underlined the need for dialogue among the Lebanese to draw up “a road map” aimed at ending tensions and breaking the political stalemate in the country.

He said the PSP agreed with the Kataeb over “core issues,” adding that there had been a positive response to the PSP’s initiative but the relevant parties still needed to reach joint ideas for implementing it.

“We can’t agree over everything because we live in a democratic country, but we agree with the Kataeb on core issues,” Aridi said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 04, 2012, on page 1.

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