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Hariri-Jumblatt ice-breaker talks give boost to March 14 coalition
Hariri and Jumblatt held talks in Paris. (The Daily Star/Dalati&Nohra,HO)
Hariri and Jumblatt held talks in Paris. (The Daily Star/Dalati&Nohra,HO)
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BEIRUT: This week’s ice-breaking meeting between ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt will usher in new alliances in Lebanon ahead of next year’s crucial parliamentary polls, MPs on both sides of the political divide said Wednesday.

The meeting, the first between Jumblatt and Hariri in 19 months held at the latter’s residence in Paris Tuesday night, gives a big boost to the opposition March 14 coalition, raising hopes for this coalition to regain the parliamentary majority in the 2013 elections.

The meeting came a few weeks after the PSP leader had sent clear signals that he was preparing to walk out of the current parliamentary majority, which mainly includes Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and other March 8 allies. This majority, backed by some of Jumblatt’s 12-member parliamentary bloc, propelled Najib Mikati to the premiership in January 2011 after Hariri’s national unity Cabinet was toppled by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.

It’s no secret that Jumblatt’s about-face last year and his support for Mikati as prime minister were pivotal in keeping Hariri out of office as the PSP leader’s stance shifted the majority from the March 14 camp to their March 8 rivals.

Now with Jumblatt planning to forge election alliances with the March 14 parties, the PSP chief’s stance is widely expected to tilt the majority balance in favor of opposition parties.

“Jumblatt had made it clear among his circles that he intends to ally with the March 14 coalition during the upcoming elections,” a PSP source told The Daily Star.

Beirut MP Ammar Houry, a member of Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc, said: “The Hariri-Jumblatt meeting lays the ground for a new stage in the Lebanese political life coinciding with the collapse of the Syrian regime.”

Speaking to the Voice of Lebanon radio station, he said there was a clear agreement between the Future Movement and Jumblatt on rejection of a draft election law based on a system of proportional representation that was approved by the Cabinet last month and sent to Parliament.

In another interview with Al-Fajr radio station, Houry said Jumblatt and the Future Movement were in agreement on many issues, including the Syrian crisis, the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon and an election law. Houry, however, said that the two sides were at odds over the fate of the current government.

While Hariri, his Future bloc and other March 14 parties have repeatedly called for the resignation of Mikati’s Cabinet and the formation of a neutral salvation government to oversee next year’s elections, Jumblatt has warned of a power vacuum should the current Cabinet step down.

Baalbek-Hermel MP Emile Rahmeh, who belongs to Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, said the Hariri-Jumblatt meeting “boosted expectations that Jumblatt was planning to forge an election alliance with the March 14 team.”

He did not expect the Paris meeting to lead to the collapse of Mikati’s government. “Jumblatt himself has said that he will keep his ministers in the government so that Lebanon will not sink into a power vacuum,” Rahmeh told The Daily Star.

A similar view was echoed by Tyre MP Ali Khreis, who belongs to Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc. “The [Paris] meeting has signaled an expected election alliance between Hariri and Jumblatt. The two men have agreed on their opposition to the proportional election law approved by the government,” he told The Daily Star.

MP Akram Shehayeb, from Jumblatt’s bloc, told MTV that the Hariri-Jumblatt meeting would lead to “a new stage with bigger cooperation on the issue of the Syrian revolution and agreement on an election law.”

Commenting on his meeting with Hariri, Jumblatt said his political ties and friendship with the Hariri family transcended differences.

“This meeting came after a period of suspension [of contacts] imposed by political circumstances that followed the collapse of the so-called Syrian-Saudi initiative,” the PSP said.

“An atmosphere of intimacy, friendship and brotherhood prevailed at the meeting. MP Jumblatt stressed that the path of struggle, political relationship and friendship that linked him with the Hariri family remain above differences,” it said.

“This relationship, which dates back to the era of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and continued with Saad Hariri, has been characterized by a major struggle for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon and the establishment of the International Tribunal to achieve justice,” the statement added.

It said the two men’s views on various domestic issues discussed at the meeting were “completely identical.”

Hariri and Jumblatt also discussed Arab and regional issues. “Their views were identical with regard to supporting the Syrian revolution by various means because it expresses the Syrian people’s aspirations for freedom, dignity, democracy and rejection of the rule of oppression and tyranny,” it added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 06, 2012, on page 3.
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