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French Version

Lebanese election put off for 13th time

Moussa leaves with no breakthrough
A scheduled session of Parliament on Monday to elect a new president was postponed for the 13th time until noon on February 11, Speaker Nabih Berri said, promising to convene Parliament at an earlier date if accord is reached.

A scheduled session of Parliament on Monday to elect a new president was postponed for the 13th time until noon on February 11, Speaker Nabih Berri said, promising to convene Parliament at an earlier date if accord is reached. The announcement came after Berri met with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa Sunday afternoon. With agreement among rival factions still elusive, Moussa left for Cairo without saying when he would return to Lebanon.

Moussa told reporters after meeting Berri that an Arab foreign ministers' meeting would be held on January 27 in Cairo. Asked if Arab foreign ministers could come up with a new interpretation of the Arab initiative, Moussa said: "The interpretation has been made and what I said is final and the official interpretation."

The Arab League chief had said that the initiative ensured that the opposition would not get a "third plus one," nor would the ruling coalition get "half plus one" of Cabinet posts.

"The solution is for [both sides] to sit together, and we have allowed them to do so, in order to agree on what can be termed a middle-of-the-road solution ... to arrive at consensus within the framework of the Arab initiative," Moussa said, adding that there was still some contact between the ruling coalition and the opposition.

Moussa has been holding talks with rival Lebanese leaders since last week to extract accord over the Arab initiative. The Arab League chief met on Sunday with parliamentary majority leader MP Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07 and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The Arab initiative was unanimously adopted by Arab foreign ministers at their meeting in Cairo on January 5.

The initiative has not reached a dead end, but has probably reached a closed door that can still be re-opened," Moussa said. He pointed to "Lebanese and regional difficulties" which are complicating matters and said that "obstacles persist that might need more time" to resolve. He added that there were points of view on both sides, but as long as there was an opportunity for Lebanon's leaders to meet there was a chance for give and take.

Berri said the postponement of Monday's session would give both sides of the political divide more time to work out their differences ahead of the presidential vote. "The parties have begun a serious dialogue with the aim of reaching a consensus on the Arab initiative," Berri said in a statement released by his office Sunday.

"It is certain that the efforts, begun by [Moussa], will continue until we reach a solution to the differences which emerged over the issues discussed during the January 17 meeting," Berri said, referring to the meeting in Parliament between Hariri, Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun, former President Amin Gemayel and Moussa. A follow-up to the January 17 meeting, planned for Saturday, was cancelled after Aoun suffered health problems which prevented him from attending.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh, speaking to Voice of Lebanon radio Sunday, described Berri's latest statement as "elegizing the Arab initiative in its current form." He said that press reports confirm that Syria's conditions have not changed and that Moussa's mission to Damascus had failed.

Hamadeh said that "Hizbullah's Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is the leader of the opposition ... he leads the orchestra and he does not want to see either a president or a government," in Lebanon. Hamadeh said a proposed "three-way split" between the Sunni, Shiite and Christian sects in a new Cabinet was at the heart of the disagreement between assassinated former Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel and Hizbullah's resigned ministers in the present Cabinet.

"A three-way split has but one meaning: the end of the democratic parliamentary system in Lebanon and a shift to a confederation," Hamadeh said. In a recent interview with

The Daily Star, Berri said that Lebanon was a "confederation of sects, we may not like it but it's a fact." Berri is among the proponents of the 10+10+10 distribution of Cabinet posts that gives the Sunni-led majority, the Shiite-led opposition and the Christian president equal shares in a new Cabinet.

Hamadeh, hinting at electing Army commander General Michel Suleiman with a simple majority, said: "We ask General Suleiman not to remain an [unelected president] but to allow us to elect him as president and for him to hold parliamentary consultations afterward to form a national unity government." He added that the army commander bore a responsibility in this regard.

Future MP Hadi Hobeish told The Daily Star Sunday that the 10+10+10 formula, which advocates an equal share of Cabinet posts for the majority, opposition and the president in a new government, is a "prelude" to a three-way division of power in the country between Sunnis, Shiites and Christians that the opposition is apparently pushing for.

"With a three-way division of power you are canceling out democracy ... We either have a democracy or we revert to tribal rule," Hobeish said. He added that a majority with the exact share of Cabinet posts as the opposition is no majority at all, and that the Arabs will neither "cancel out" the majority nor the opposition in Lebanon.

He said the solution would be for the opposition to accept the Arab initiative as it stands. "We all agreed to listen to Moussa and to the Arab solution but the opposition held on to their demand for a blocking third or a three-way split in the form of the 10+10+10 formula," Hobeish said, adding that the decision to resolve the Lebanese crisis is a regional not a local one.

Addressing a rally in the South Sunday, MP Mohammad Raad, who heads Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc, said the Arab initiative was only playing for time, waiting for the US to take the final decision. "The Arab initiative's text can only be understood as proposing a three-way split in the Cabinet," he added.

Raad said the French initiative discussed a two-way split of 17 Cabinet posts to the majority and 13 to the opposition. "Today the majority wants to give the president's share of Cabinet ministers from the those of the opposition. Why?" Raad asked, adding that a "humiliating agreement" would not be imposed on the opposition. "We see that a solution to Lebanon's crisis is for the opposition to possess a third plus one in Cabinet," he said.

Beyrouth 21-01-2008
The Daily Star

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