Monday, July 23, 2007

Gemayel announces candidacy in Metn by-elections

Gemayel announces candidacy in Metn by-elections
Efforts to choose mp by consensus fail as rival parties announce nominees of their own

By Mirella Hodeib
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Former president Amin Gemayel on Friday announced he will run in disputed August 5 parliamentary by-elections to replace his son, Pierre Gemayel, who was assassinated in Beirut last November "I am a candidate for the deputy's seat in the Metn region ... Isn't it strange that the father is succeeding his son?" a visibly moved Gemayel asked a televised news conference. Former Industry Minister and member of the March 14 Forces Pierre Gemayel was gunned down on November 21 in a suburb north of Beirut. Soon after his news conference, Gemayel phoned Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir to discuss with him the reasons that prompted him [Gemayel] to run for elections. Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri called Gemayel to "congratulate him about his candidacy," according to the National News Agency. Hariri told Gemayel that he was confident that "the unity of the March 14 Forces concerning national issues including by-elections in Metn and Beirut will demonstrate that the Lebanese will triumph over criminals and hamper any attempts to exploit political murders and paralyze the constitutional and parliamentary life in Lebanon."

By-elections to select replacements for Gemayel and Walid Eido, another MP who was killed in a Beirut car bombing on June 13, are scheduled to be held in the second district of Beirut and in the Mount Lebanon region of Metn on August 5. The deadline for submitting candidacy in the by-elections is midnight on Friday. The Future Movement (FM) also announced Friday that it has chosen businessman Mohammad al-Amin Itani as its candidate to replace Eido. The movement, headed by MP Saad Hariri, urged voters to participate in the August 5 by-elections and support Itani, a businessman and the former head of the federation of Beirut families. The statement described Itani as a "distinguished voice ... in defending Beirut and its families." Hariri also called Salam on Friday to thank him for statements made this week calling for by-elections in Beirut to be chosen by consensus."

Meanwhile, Beirut's governor Nassif Qalosh announced that according to Article 64 of the parliamentary law, billboards have been erected all across Beirut to be used by candidates during run up to the elections. "Therefore, candidates are urged to abide by the special billboards to display pictures and electoral slogans and not use any random spaces," the statement issued by the governor said. With the March 14 Forces announcing their candidates for by-elections, and rival political parties announcing candidates of their own, all consensus scenarios have been ruled out. Gemayel, the Free Patriotic Movement's official candidate Camille Khoury and independent Joseph Mansour Asmar will compete for the Metn seat.

Former MP Najah Wakim told The Daily Star on Thursday that Ibrahim Halabi, vice-president of the People's Movement, which Wakim heads, will run as candidate in Beirut. Reports circulated on Thursday reported that Gemayel might have his second son Sami run for elections. However, Lebanese newspapers reported on Friday that while Sami would have made an excellent consensus MP, Amine decided to enter the contest after the FPM ruled out any consensus by announcing their candidate. Efforts to reach an agreement between Gemayel and FPM leader Michel Aoun, in order to avoid any further divisions on the Christian scene have not born fruit. A well-informed source told The Daily Star that those efforts were still under way despite "implicit mutual criticism voiced by Gemayel and Aoun in their respective news conferences on Friday." "I cannot grasp all the talk about reclaiming representation in the Metn region, are the current Metn MPs alien to Metn?" Aoun asked on Friday, in direct response to comments voiced by Gemayel. Gemayel said it was "high time the Metn people be truly represented in the Parliament." While expressing his support for Gemayel's candidacy, member of the March 14 Forces Gabriel Murr said Aoun should not try to launch any battles against the Gemayel family, "since it was they who introduced Aoun in the political sphere and appointed him in high-ranking positions."

Earlier this month, Aoun said the FPM will not run for by elections if President Emile Lahoud does not sign the decree. Lahoud has refused to counter-sign the government's decree on holding the by-elections; on the grounds that the Cabinet has been "illegitimate" since the resignation in November of six ministers. Lebanon's state court rejected on Wednesday a motion contesting the call by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government for by-elections. The motion was advanced by Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) supporter Tony Orian. In an interview with Sawt al-Ghad radio, the FPM candidate said the FPM will advance another motion, "in order top preserve the only few remaining rights of the President." "However," Khoury added, "If the motion is once again rejected we will not withdraw our candidacy because we want to voice our opposition of the current government's deficient performance." - With agencies

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