Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hopes for consensus on by-elections fizzle out

Hopes for consensus on by-elections fizzle out
Two candidates withdraw as deadline passes

Compiled by Daily Star staff

Hopes to forge consensus concerning by-elections in Metn and Beirut vanished Wednesday after efforts failed to have the Free Patriotic Movement's (FPM) Metn candidate Camille Khoury withdraw, while seven candidates will compete for the Beirut seat. Two candidates pulled out of the contests as the deadline for candidates to withdraw from the by-elections passed Tuesday evening. Nabila Mohammad Saab and Rafik Kamel Qassem withdrew their candidacies from the Beirut by-election. Although seven candidates are running in Beirut, the main competition appears to be between Future Movement candidate Mohammad Amin Itani and Ibrahim Halabi, the candidate of former MP Najah Wakim's People's Movement. While Wakim is known to be part of the opposition, Hizbullah announced earlier this week that it would not participate in the by-elections, after President Emile Lahoud refused to sign the government's decree calling for the by-elections. By-elections will be held on August 5 in the second district of Beirut and in the Mount Lebanon region of Metn to replace slain MPs Walid Eido and Pierre Gemayel, respectively.

The Metn by-election has drawn the most attention, with former President Amin Gemayel, the FPM's Khoury and independent Joseph Mansour Asmar contesting the empty seat of Gemayel's assassinated son. Khoury on Wednesday visited the headquarters of the Armenian Tashnag Party in Burj Hammoud, saying: "Tashnag and the FPM are known to be one big family, for the alliance between the two parties is old and steady." MP Michel Murr and the Tashnag Party announced their support on Monday for Khoury. The FPM thus potentially secured a large bloc of the Metn's roughly 32,000 Armenian votes. The Metn electorate numbers 162,950 voters. Tashnag member and MP Hagop Pakradounian reiterated his party's support of the FPM in the Metn by-election, "unless some sort of consensus is reached." FPM leader Michel Aoun has refused all compromise proposals made to him by Maronite bishops and MP Pierre Dakkache over the past couple of weeks. Aoun was in Germany on Wednesday and met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The FPM-affiliated Reform and Change parliamentary bloc is expected to meet with Khoury at the bloc's headquarters in Jdeideh on Thursday.

Despite the narrowing opportunity to reach a settlement for the Metn by-election, Dakkache pursued his mediation efforts by visiting Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea in Maarab on Wednesday. Geagea called on Aoun to avoid an "unnecessary battle in Metn," adding that he would support Gemayel if consensus is not reached. Aoun "ought to avoid any divisions on the Christian scene, because the by-election in Metn will not change much in the power balance in the country and will instead lead to skirmishes," Geagea said. While expressing support for Gemayel's "political stands," the Maronite Council also launched mediation efforts on Wednesday and expressed support for the Maronite bishops' mediation efforts. "Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir ought to be supported in order to ensure Christian unity, which is much needed during such difficult times," said Raymond Roufaiel, the head of the Maronite Council.

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