Saturday, December 29, 2007

Deja vu: Berri postpones session to elect president

Deja vu: Berri postpones session to elect president
Vote now slated for january 12

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri has postponed for the 11th time a parliamentary session to elect a new president to January 12, according to a statement issued by the General Secretariat of the Chamber of Deputies on Friday. The statement said there is no longer a need for a constitutional amendment to allow grade one civil servants to be elected to the presidency. It referred to an interpretation of Article 74 of the Constitution that waives restrictions on such candidates, as they would normally have to resign from their post before their election to the presidency. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora chaired a Cabinet meeting Friday and approved 750 government decrees that were left unsigned by former President Emile Lahoud. The Cabinet also approved posthumous promotions for all Lebanese Army officers and enlisted men who fell in fighting around the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp earlier this year.

Opposition stalwart and Marada Party chief Suleiman Franjieh told reporters Friday that if the opposition did not get 11 Cabinet posts in the new government there will be no election and no new president. He said recent government actions only complicate matters. "We represent 60 percent of the people, and we have 45 percent of parliamentary seats, all we want is 11 out of 30 Cabinet posts, if they refuse to give us what we want, let them rule alone," Franjieh said referring to the ruling March 14 alliance. "If they decide to elect a president with half plus one of MPs this will lead to strife, if they can handle it, let them go ahead," Franjieh added. Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun, who chaired a meeting of his bloc Friday, told reporters afterward that the vacuum in the presidency was "planned" by the ruling coalition for a long time. He said the opposition wanted a national salvation government to save the country from this void. "Before the presidential election, an understanding has to be reached [with the ruling coalition]. Their refusal to negotiate with the opposition and usurping presidential powers is a coup d'etat," Aoun said. He added that the government is "bad intentioned" and does not want to apply the law. Aoun said the opposition will not reveal the steps it will take to resist the government's coup. He said the present government contradicts the pact of communal coexistence and takes its marching orders from abroad. "They prefer slavery to freedom ... they look for masters in foreign embassies," Aoun said of the ruling coalition. He said that the national unity government the opposition is asking for would come after a president is elected, adding that the opposition's demands are legitimate and all it is asking for is governmental participation.

Former President Amin Gemayel, speaking to reporters at his home in Bikfaya Friday, said the main obstacle to accord remains the opposition's demand to have over a third of Cabinet posts and thus the power to bring down the government. "This is unreasonable as what brings a government down is only a vote of no confidence by the majority in Parliament and not the blocking third which the opposition is asking for," Gemayel said. Asked about renewed French efforts to revive their diplomatic initiative concerning Lebanon, Gemayel said the French initiative is continuing and that lately there had been an "exchange of ideas on certain possible solutions" to resolve the crisis. "All [proposals] revolve around the central point of the blocking third to bring down the government, which is difficult for us to accept," he said. Gemayel said that apart from the blocking third, the ruling coalition remains open to all other suggestions and proposed solutions, even regarding the constitutional mechanism to facilitate the election of General Michel Suleiman as president. "We have a solution to allow us to quickly hold elections should there be a law in this regard," he said, referring to the draft law to amend the Constitution. "All we hope for is cooperation from everyone and for the opposition to be convinced finally that it is in its best interest and in Lebanon's best interest for us all to put our trust in General Suleiman as an ideal consensus candidate and elect him," Gemayel said. He added that after the election a national unity government would be set up in which the president will have a "balancing vote" as is customary in most cabinets. Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Hussein Hajj Hassan, speaking at a party rally in Baalbek Friday, said the government's actions are illegal and unconstitutional. He also compared the government of Siniora to a "US embassy that occupies the Grand Serail." He said the Cabinet works to ensure American interests "These actions that the government insists on taking, in addition to the petition delivered by 13 majority MPs, are provocative, and if they think they will win the battle they will face a resounding defeat. Whoever takes escalatory steps has to deal with the results of that action."

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