Thursday, August 30, 2007

March 14 MP says 'gentlemen's agreement' on presidency due soon

March 14 MP says 'gentlemen's agreement' on presidency due soon
Bloc insists American position unchanged regarding election

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: As Speaker Nabih Berri waited for the US to respond to a request to state its position the upcoming presidential election in Lebanon, the ruling coalition insisted on Wednesday that the American position is unchanged and remains in harmony with the French and Arab positions in calling for the vote to be held within the constitutional time frame. Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh told Voice of Lebanon radio on Wednesday that the March 14 Forces will agree on a common candidate, but said it is too early to announce what he called a "gentleman's agreement" between the bloc's presidential hopefuls. "They will agree over the one candidate who manages to get the most votes from the majority bloc and perhaps a number of votes from the opposition as well," Hamadeh said. Hamadeh said that after his meeting with US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffery Feltman he did not sense any change in the US position toward Lebanon. "Their position remains similar to the French and Arab positions, in that they follow the presidential elections, not to name candidates, but to insist that elections are held within the constitutional time frame," he said. He said an expanded meeting for March 14 Forces would be held soon but said it would likely be postponed until a series of internal and external meetings and talks are completed. Among these meetings will be a meeting in the Vatican, where Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir is due to hold talks next month. "What we saw from the comments of the patriarch and the Tripoli Gathering Tuesday is they demand a quorum of two thirds in the first session, which we also accept," Hamadeh said. "But if we see in the first session that MPs boycotting the session intend to hinder the election of a new president, then the majority with half-plus-one of MPs would be the constitutionally authorized body" to elect the next president.

Meanwhile, Democratic Gathering leader MP Walid Jumblatt insisted the parliamentary majority has the right to elect a president "anytime it likes" in the event the Chamber of Deputies is closed to them. In comments made to Al Jazeera satellite news channel, Jumblatt reiterated his previous position rejecting amending the Constitution for the sake of individuals. "The Constitution does not require an electoral session to be held in Parliament, the election of presidents Bashir Gemayel, Elias Sarkis and Rene Mouawad all took place at other venues," he said. "It is our constitutional right to meet as a parliamentary majority wherever we please if the doors of the Chamber of Deputies were closed to us, as they were closed two months ago, and elect a new president." In an apparent attack aimed at Berri, Jumblatt said the paralysis in the country is due to the closure of Parliament, stressing the need to meet to elect a new president. He also recalled Sfeir's comments on Tuesday in which the patriarch said that boycotting presidential election would be unfair and disastrous for the country.

Former Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzly, addressing an Amal rally in South Lebanon on Wednesday, said a quorum of two thirds has been a requirement for presidential electoral sessions of Parliament since 1926. "The speaker of Parliament is the only one with the authority to convene an electoral session of Parliament to elect a new president," Ferzly said. He added that some politicians' claims that MPs' refusal to attend or vote in such a session as being undemocratic is nonsense, "abstention or non-participation of MPs in the session is a constitutional right." Change and Reform Bloc MP Nabil Nicholas stressed the need to stop marginalizing the presidency and said only a strong president who represents his people can preserve the president's powers. In a television interview Wednesday, Nicholas said bringing a weak president to power will leave Lebanon exposed and encourage chaos, asking the US to stop its meddling in Lebanese affairs and support all the Lebanese, not just one group. UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, met Wednesday Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. The one-and-a-half hour meeting focused on the presidency and the Shebaa Farms issue.

The LBC, quoting unidentified sources, said that during the meeting Pedersen told Geagea the international community insists on holding presidential elections on time and in accordance with the Constitution. Pedersen later met Change and Reform Bloc MP Michel Murr and Hizbullah's resigned Energy Minister Mohammad Fneish. Hizbullah MP Hussein al- Hajj Hassan, speaking at an educational conference Wednesday, said Lebanon thrives as long as there is partnership between its people and shrivels when one group monopolizes power. "Today we hear them say there is no time to form a national unity government before presidential elections. They are the same ones who have over the past year opposed the establishment of such a government," Hajj Hassan said, adding that the majority are opposed to a national unity government out of principle. "Will a group that rejected a national unity government before presidential elections accept it afterward?" he asked. "[The ruling coalition] insists on equating national partnership with suicide and equates reaching a consensus with treason, threatening anyone from their camp who thinks of reaching a consensus with political and morale execution." He chided the ruling coalition for turning against Berri and Army Commander General Michel Suleiman when the speaker tried to solve the impasse and when Suleiman said what they did not want to hear.

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