|Politicians put Saturday session in doubt
|Opposition slams cabinet's move to amend constitution as 'provocation'
The eleventh parliamentary session to elect a new president in Lebanon looks likely to be postponed until January next year, with the opposition rejecting the Cabinet's recent passage of a draft bill to amend the Constitution and calling the move a provocation.
MP Ali Bazzi from Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, said the session, scheduled to take place on Saturday, could well be postponed.
The MP also criticized the government's move to amend the Constitution as "worthless and inappropriate."
"Speaker Berri has not received nor will he accept to receive any draft bill from a government he does not recognize as legitimate and the recent government decision is worthless and will change nothing politically or constitutionally, but will only serve to increase complications," Bazzi told NBN television on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet on Monday adopted a draft bill to amend Article 49 of the Constitution to allow the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, to be elected president. The government also adopted a motion calling for an extraordinary session of Parliament before January 1, 2008, to vote on the draft bill.
The draft bill amends the third clause of Article 49, which forbids grade-one civil servants from being elected to the top job. Parliament's current regular session ends December 31.
Bazzi said the ruling coalition only wants to extend the presidential vacuum and the government's lifespan. "Any petition by the majority is out of place," he said.
"The behavior of the parliamentary majority adds complications and prolongs the crisis rather than resolve it," Bazzi said, reaffirming the opposition's commitment to Suleiman as a consensus candidate.
Minister of Public Works Mohammad Safadi said the Cabinet's action was motivated by the public interest. "If circumstances require a constitutional amendment to revive constitutional institutions, especially the presidency, then that must take place in a sprit of national consensus and in keeping with the law, which the government is doing," Safadi said.
Speaking to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday, MP Robert Ghanem said the Cabinet's actions were constitutional and legal. He said that the onus now rests on Parliament to convene and do its part. Ghanem also said the opposition's constitutional arguments are invalid.
Ghanem, in a separate statement, lamented the political escalation just days before the parliamentary session on Saturday which he said destroys all hope of electing a new president during that session as the Lebanese had hoped.
Meanwhile, MP Ammar Houri of MP Saad Hariri's Future Movement, told Voice of Lebanon radio on Wednesday that the coming hours would be crucial for preparing a mechanism to submit a petition to Parliament from majority MPs demanding a presidential election and the convening of Parliament. He said the petition could be submitted by 10 MPs or more.
"Speaker Berri is not being asked to agree to the convening of an extraordinary session of Parliament. The speaker is not involved at all, [as] an extraordinary session has in fact come into effect according to constitutional norms," Houri said. He added that there is a full agenda of legislative business to attend to and said he hoped the extraordinary session would make up for 13 months of inactivity.
Houri said France, which has tried to mediate the political conflict in Beirut, is "disheartened," whether by the opposition in Lebanon or by the "Syrian reaction" which hindered the French initiative. He added that the French are most likely "re-evaluating" their next move.
Siniora on Wednesday received a call from EU Foreign Policy and Security Chief Javier Solana. The prime minister also called Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit for talks on the situation in Lebanon and the region.
Gheit discussed the crisis in Lebanon with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner and Moussa in Cairo on Tuesday. The talks focused on the latest international diplomatic efforts to resolve the presidential stalemate.
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir met Suleiman and the army intelligence chief, Brigadier George Khoury, on Wednesday evening.
Development and Liberation bloc MP Ali Hassan Khalil said the Cabinet's move on Monday has given the impression that it does not want to reach agreement on Suleiman's candidacy. He added that the army commander remains the opposition's consensus choice for president.
"We still feel there is a possibility for reaching a settlement and there is new French activity, the signs of which will be apparent soon," he said, adding that the opposition deals positively with efforts to reach a settlement and that it is up to the other side to "show good intentions."
Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Nawwar al-Saheli, said in a statement Wednesday that the government had violated the Constitution and the sprit of the charter of national accord, and thus Siniora has "assassinated all consensus initiatives."
"This group of pretenders is continuing in its violation of constitutional norms and rules and is threatening the formula of communal coexistence with direct orders from their American master," Saheli said.
Saheli said the Lebanese have grown aware that the Siniora team and their allies only serve US policy interests, which contradict Lebanon's own interests, its future and stability.
The Daily Star