|March 14 MPs deliver petition calling for Parliament session
|The March 14 coalition delivered to Parliament Thursday a petition signed by 13 MPs calling for an emergency session to discuss and ratify an amendment to Article 49 of the Lebanese Constitution. The amendment would pave the way for the election of Lebanese Armed Forces commander General Michel Suleiman as president.
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra, Democratic Gathering MP Akram Chehayeb and Future Movement MP Ammar Houri presented the petition
to the Parliament Secretary General Adnan Daher at noon on Thursday.
The position of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a leader of the March 8 opposition, is that the petition is "unnecessary and useless" because an amendment is no longer required to elect Suleiman president. "For this reason the speaker has not convened a session of Parliament to amend the Constitution but only one to elect a president," Arafat Hijazi, Berri's media adviser, told The Daily Star on Thursday.
Hijazi said an interpretation of Article 49 by former Justice Minister Bahij Tabbara, which both Berri and the pro-government camp accepted, held that all constitutional limits are lifted because of a vacancy in the presidency. In addition, the restriction is also lifted from Article 49 barring grade one civil servants from the presidency for two years after resigning from their posts, Hijazi said, adding that MPs can elect Suleiman directly without an amendment.
"The majority presented the petition to embarrass the speaker and to show that they are in a hurry to elect a president and end the presidential vacuum and show that the opposition is not," Hijazi said. As for the electoral session slated for Saturday, he said it seems unlikely to convene as long as "lines of communication between the parties are severed." The March 14 and March 8 groups have failed for months to agree on a consensus president, and 10 electoral sessions in Parliament have been postponed since September 25, with the office of the presidency vacant since November 23.
Houri said the action was taken "on behalf of the MPs of the nation," adding that people were justified in questioning whether the opposition really supports the nomination of Suleiman. "This constant and longstanding obstruction of General Suleiman's election shows a lack of support for his nomination."
He said Suleiman's election as president ought to be a gift to the Lebanese this holiday season, adding that 13 MPs signed the petition to mark 13 months of inactivity in Parliament and the passing of 13 months since opposition backers set up a tent city in Beirut's Downtown to protest the government.
Chehayeb said the petition presented to Parliament is additional proof that March 14 Forces wish to rescue the presidential election and elect Suleiman as a consensus president for all of Lebanon. Chehayeb also warned that the country was at a very delicate juncture.
"The concern today is not over the election but over the republic, [its] national accord and Taif. We therefore appeal to those with national feelings among our March 8 colleagues responsible for obstruction, and we remind them that after December 31 the country will face major complications," Chehayeb said. The 1989 Taif Accord ended the 1975-90 Civil War.
The Constitution requires that a minimum of 10 MPs submit any request for a constitutional amendment. The draft amendment submitted by March 14 MPs allows "for one time only" the election of "judges and grade-one civil servants or equivalent" to the presidency.
The MPs who signed the petition, apart from Zahra, Chehayeb and Houri, include Elie Aoun, Mustafa Hashem, Mohammad Qabbani, Serge Toursarkissian, Nabil Defreij, Riyadh Rahal, Jawad Boulos, Henri Helou, Atef Majdalani and Ghazi Youssef.
Majdalani, speaking to Tele Liban on Thursday, said the legislators signed the petition to allow the convening of an extraordinary session of Parliament before March 2008. Parliament goes into recess on December 31 and reconvenes in regular session on the first Tuesday after March 15 next year.
"It is clear that Speaker Berri will not receive the draft amendment from the government. This is a political position, not a legal or constitutional one," Majdalani said, adding that the step taken by MPs Thursday was complementary to the Cabinet's Monday decision to issue a draft amendment and send it to Parliament.
Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc MP Hussein Hajj Hassan, also speaking to Tele Liban on Thursday, reiterated the opposition's stance that political agreement on a national unity government had to be reached between rival parties before Suleiman could be elected president.
Hassan said Cabinet posts ought to be distributed according to the size of political parties forming the new Cabinet, and he added that agreement should be reached on a new electoral law as well as on the major appointments in public administration and the military.
"This is nothing new. Hizbullah and the opposition have been asking for a national unity government for a year and several months now, and the other side is the one who agrees to it then opposes it, accepts it then rejects it," Hassan said.
"If agreement on a basket of conditions is not reached to resolve the political crisis, there will not be a presidential election in Lebanon," Hassan said, adding that there is no way to elect a president without a national unity government.
The daily An-Nahar, quoting informed sources in the March 14 alliance, said that France suggested the majority promise the opposition that it will set up a national unity government in exchange for electing Suleiman. The majority rejected any suggestion that ties the president's hands with pre-conditions, the source said.
France has denied reports that there was a UN draft resolution on Lebanon in the works, while its Foreign Ministry refused to comment on a recent meeting between French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmad Abu al-Gheit in Cairo, Naharnet reported on Thursday.
US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad, has urged the UN Security Council to consider the imposition of sanctions on Syria for obstructing the presidential election in Lebanon.
The Daily Star