Lebanon News

Berri, Geagea trade barbs over who’s unbearable

The joint committee during their meeting at Parliament. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Media Office/HO)

BEIRUT: The relationship between Speaker Nabih Berri and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea sunk a level lower Thursday, as Berri said he was forced to “put up with” the LF chief.

“He’s right, he cannot bear me, but it is me who has to put up with him,” Berri told Al-Jadeed TV, responding to comments by Geagea published Thursday.

Geagea told Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar that in the event that the March 14 coalition wins a majority in the parliamentary elections next year, it would not vote for Berri as a speaker.

“Although we respect him personally, given his current political position we cannot bear anymore [to elect] Nabih Berri as speaker again,” the LF leader said.

“We want a speaker who will be in harmony with the new parliamentary majority,” Geagea added.

Although the March 14 coalition won a parliamentary majority in the 2009 parliamentary polls, the coalition MPs elected Berri speaker, and the March 8 alliance was given veto power in the national unity Cabinet formed by Saad Hariri in November of the same year.

The arrangement was part of the 2008 Doha agreement which ended an 18-month-political crisis in the country.

But the March 14 coalition maintains that their March 8 rivals violated the Doha agreement when they toppled Hariri’s Cabinet in January 2011, forming a one-sided government headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Separately, Future Movement MP Hadi Hobeish said that the LF has intensified its discussions with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt in a bid to gain his support for the draft election law endorsed by the LF and the rest of Christian parties in the opposition.

Speaking to reporters after visiting Geagea at his residence in Maarab, Hobeish said that the Future Movement is holding discussions with its March 14 allies and Jumblatt over the draft law.

The draft law would divide Lebanon into 50 small districts under a winner-takes-all system. The government has forwarded to Parliament its own draft election law which would divide Lebanon into 13 medium-sized districts and adopt proportional representation.

Jumblatt opposes both draft laws and supports the 1960s law, a version of which was used in the 2009 elections. It adopts the qada as an electoral district under a winner-takes-all system. Ultimately, Jumblatt and MPs loyal to him have the weight in Parliament to tip to the balance toward whichever proposal they chose.

Hobeish did not rule out the possibility of introducing amendments to the draft law presented by the March 14 Christian parties in a bid to facilitate reaching an agreement with Jumblatt.

Meanwhile, parliamentary joint committees discussing the government’s draft election law failed to vote on any of the discussed items.

“Discussions focused on items related to the right of an individual who recently acquired [Lebanese nationality] to vote and run for elections and what prevents Army personnel from voting,” Deputy-Speaker Farid Makari told reporters after chairing the session.

“There was disagreement over the right of Army personnel to vote and parliamentary committees did not decide on the decisive issues as quorum was lost,” Makari said, adding that the divisive items will be subjected to vote in the upcoming session Tuesday. Makari said that no specific bloc has caused a loss of quorum.

Media reports said that March 14 MPs opposed granting Army personnel the right to vote, arguing that Army would become involved in politics. The idea was also opposed by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel but supported by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, which argued that every Lebanese has the right to vote. Army soldiers are currently banned from voting.

MP Ghassan Moukheiber said a new draft election law will take 10 years if discussions continue at this pace.

“We still have only two months before the end of the year which is the deadline for endorsing the draft election law,” he said. “The draft law includes 122 items and we are still in the fifth and sixth items which we have yet to pass.”

Moukheiber said not enough MPs attended to vote on the items, describing their absence as “very dangerous.”

“If things continue as such, we might endorse the draft election law including all the reforms that interest the Lebanese after 10 years,” he added.

Following the joint committees’ session, a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with studying two controversial items in the government’s draft law held its second meeting. The two items have to do with the type of the electoral system and the size of the districts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 19, 2012, on page 3.




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