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FRIDAY, 18 APR 2014
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Berri spearheads talks to pave way for new PM
Gemayel and Berri meet at the speaker’s Ain al-Tineh residence.
Gemayel and Berri meet at the speaker’s Ain al-Tineh residence.
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BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri was Tuesday the focus of a flurry of political consultations aimed at clearing the way for a new premier-designate to be named and averting a power vacuum after last week’s resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government.

Also Tuesday, the parliamentary Future bloc praised the government’s resignation and called for the formation of a new Cabinet to defuse political and sectarian tensions, stoked by the 2-year-old bloody conflict in Syria, and ensure that parliamentary elections were held as soon as possible.

The rival factions are split on whether priority should be given to the resumption of National Dialogue or to parliamentary consultations to designate a new prime minister. Berri is pressing for the convening of at least one dialogue session designed to facilitate the naming of a new Sunni figure to head the next Cabinet, a political source told The Daily Star.

At his Ain al-Tineh residence, Berri met with lawmakers and officials from both sides of the political spectrum to discuss ways to overcome the Cabinet crisis, which came as the fragile country was riven by political divisions and faced serious threats to its security and stability from a much-feared spillover of the turmoil in Syria.

The government’s resignation also came as the March 8 and March 14 parties have so far failed to reach an agreement on a new electoral law to govern the upcoming parliamentary polls. The parties’ inability to endorse a new voting system to replace the 1960 law has enhanced the possibility of either a postponement of the June 9 elections, or an extension of Parliament’s four-year mandate that expires on June 20.

Mikati’s dramatic move to step down last week has taken both allies and foes unawares and prompted calls from the two rival camps for the resumption of National Dialogue to address two core issues: the formation of a new Cabinet to supervise the elections and a new electoral law.

Berri met with Energy Minister Gebran Bassil from MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement; Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah; and Marada Movement’s former Minister Youssef Saadeh in the presence of caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil to discuss the current developments in light of the government’s resignation and the parliamentary elections.

The speaker later met separately with Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan and Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel.

An adviser to Berri said the Ain al-Tineh meetings were aimed at maintaining contacts among political parties following Mikati’s resignation.

“The atmosphere of the meetings today was good and contributes to the spirit of consultations and dialogue between various parties to widen the circle of hope after the government’s resignation,” Ali Hamdan told The Daily Star.

A political source said Berri would be meeting with a delegation from the Future bloc Wednesday.

Adwan said Berri was expected to call for a legislative session next week. But a political source played down the possibility of such a session next week. “The speaker will hold a parliamentary session next week in order to preserve the role and work of Parliament,” Adwan told reporters after meeting Berri.

Adwan said lawmakers were working with Berri to study means to “legally abolish” the 1960 law used in the 2009 parliamentary polls, while working at the same time on a new electoral proposal.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Berri, Gemayel called for the formation of “a national salvation Cabinet” made up of the country’s top leaders to meet major political and security challenges. He said Berri was leaning toward the formation of such a government.

Gemayel called for quick consultations to name a new premier-designate who would form a Cabinet.

“The country cannot tolerate a postponement or incomplete governments. It needs someone who assumes responsibilities. There are leaders who represent the Lebanese street. Let them join a national salvation government whose primary mission is to approve an electoral law,” Gemayel said.

The Future bloc described the government’s resignation as an “important and positive development” and called for the formation of a new Cabinet to ease political and sectarian tensions and ensure the elections were held as soon as possible.

“The Future bloc, which looks to the future after the government’s resignation positively and with openness, believes this resignation has opened new and promising doors and windows that must be exploited in the interests of the Lebanese who yearn for stability and hope for a return to the growth and the restoration of confidence in institutions and in the country,” said a statement issued after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

It called for relaunching the National Dialogue Committee sessions to follow up topics of discussion by its members under the Taif Accord and the Constitution.

Berri underlined the importance of an inter-Lebanese dialogue to solve the Cabinet crisis, warning that Lebanon could remain without a government for 15 years if the rival parties did not sit at one table to discuss a consensual government.

However, LF leader Samir Geagea disagreed with Berri, saying that National Dialogue was not the way to go. “I consider talking about a dialogue session to form a new government a waste of time,” Geagea said.

For his part, Aoun said he was ready to attend a new round of National Dialogue if it would discuss a new electoral law.

“The government’s resignation cannot prevent Parliament from legislating because the latter is the first authority in the country,” Aoun told reporters after chairing his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc’s weekly meeting.

He stressed the need to solve the election law problem before moving on to the Cabinet issue.

Meanwhile, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly called on rival Lebanese leaders to “engage in a positive spirit to ensure that Lebanon is able to meet the challenges ahead” following the government’s resignation.

“The United Nations will continue to support preparations for elections in Lebanon. We welcome the continued efforts of Lebanon’s political leaders to reach consensus on an electoral law which would pave the way for free, fair and transparent elections,” he told reporters after meeting Mikati at the Grand Serail.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 27, 2013, on page 1.
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