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Berri, Aoun bitterly divided over poll law

FPM leader Michel Aoun speaks during a press conference in Rabieh, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. (The Daily Star/Charbel Nakhoul, HO)

BEIRUT: Tension is simmering between Speaker Nabih Berri and Change and Reform bloc leader Michel Aoun as a result of differences on the choice of a new electoral law. According to Change and Reform bloc sources, during his Monday meeting with March 8’s Christians and Hezbollah, Aoun told the Hezbollah delegation that he believed Berri was conspiring with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt and President Michel Sleiman to block a vote on the Orthodox Gathering’s draft electoral law.

Aoun, who wants Berri to take a clear stance on the law, asked Hezbollah for a definitive answer from the speaker about whether he plans to convene Parliament for a vote on the Orthodox proposal.

A Monday evening meeting between representatives of Amal and Hezbollah was inconclusive. Amal’s Mohammad Baalbaki and Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil discussed the issue with Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s aides Wafiq Safa and Hussein Khalil. Hezbollah told Aoun talks were ongoing.

The sources said Aoun planned to go on the attack in his regular Tuesday appearance following the Change and Reform bloc meeting, and will focus his ire on Jumblatt and Sleiman.

Aoun will continue to insist that elections are held under a new law, while the sources noted that his allies – including Hezbollah – place less importance on timely polls.

While Aoun is confident that the Kataeb supports the Orthodox draft, he is less certain of the Lebanese Forces and believes a vote in Parliament would force MPs to publically announce their positions at the risk of embarrassment in front of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and other Christians.

The sources continued that Rai, the Christian parties, Hezbollah, and Amal had agreed to block any attempt to hold elections under the 1960 law.

As for the post of prime minister, Aoun has said he would only vote to renominate Mikati if he received concessions. However, the sources said the FPM leader would back Mikati if he believes March 14 had a chance of forming a Cabinet with its candidate.

According to the Change and Reform bloc sources, March 8 has solid information that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri opposes the choice of Mikati as prime minister, as well as any figure from Beirut.

This has led to the exclusion of several names from talks, including Lebanon’s Ambassador to the U.N. Nawaf Salam. There is a possibility that Hariri will suggest his aunt, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri for the post, and the sources add that Sleiman and Hariri were in continuous contact about the current political situation.

If the Future Movement refuses to renominate Mikati, the sources note Jumblatt may choose not to name a candidate for prime minister. For his part, Mikati could insist on securing 65 votes of support in Parliament if he is to accept the job.

The same sources did not rule out the possibility that a prime minister who is not able to form a government is selected, necessitating an extension of Parliament’s mandate.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 02, 2013, on page 3.

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