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French Version

Election postponed again as Moussa leaves Beirut

Arab League chief makes no headway as rival camps squabble over unity cabinet

A parliamentary session to elect a new Lebanese president was postponed again on Monday after Arab League chief Amr Moussa left Beirut without achieving a breakthrough in Lebanon's ongoing political crisis.

"The scheduled session to elect a new president is adjourned to March 11 to give more momentum to the ongoing Arab mediation efforts," a statement issued by Parliament's secretariat general said. Moussa told reporters earlier on Monday that leaders of feuding parties have managed to agree on some issues, but are still at odds over the shape of the new government.

He hosted talks Sunday and Monday among the head of the opposition Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), MP Michel Aoun, and two representatives of the ruling March 14 coalition, parliamentary majority leader Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07 and former President Amin Gemayel.

The two meetings, designed to bridge the gap between the two camps over implementing a three-point Arab initiative, have apparently not achieved any results.

Moussa said that although the two sides agreed on electing the commander of Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as president and the need for a new electoral law, they disagree on the make-up of the new government.

"The opposition is settled with 10 ministers and the problem lies in how to distribute the remaining 20 seats," Moussa said after the Monday meeting. "We have succeeded in dealing with some points on the agenda, and the agenda is long, but there are still some points that need further discussion."

Moussa seemed not to lose hope in reaching a settlement to Lebanon's crisis, telling reporters he would remain in touch with Lebanese leaders.

"We agreed on meeting again, but the date is not set yet," he said.

A few hours before leaving Beirut, Moussa said there was still a chance a new president would be elected, but senior FPM official Gebran Bassil told The Daily Star that the Arab mediation efforts have reached a dead end.

"Moussa knows a president will not be elected unless a package deal is reached. We will not go ahead and elect a president and leave all other issues pending," he warned.

But, Ali Hamdan, Speaker Nabih Berri's media adviser, said some progress had been made during the talks.

"The ruling coalition was insisting that electing a president should take place before reaching any agreement over the government, but now they have started to accept the concept of the package deal," he said.

"But their main problem resides in the electoral law."

"Both the opposition and parliamentary majority agreed that the electoral law favoring the qada should win over, but the parliamentary majority does not agree on the 1960 formula for elections based on the qada. It wants a tailor-cut electoral law in order to guarantee the success of some of its potential candidates," he added. "We simply cannot accept that."

Hamdan maintained an optimistic tone as he spoke of a "political memo" between Berri and Moussa, implying that the two were working something out.

Hani Hammoud, Hariri's political adviser, said the opposition was attaching many conditions to the presidential election.

"In a 10+10+10 formula, they want ministers affiliated to the president to abstain from voting on critical issues," he said.

"Moreover, they insist on adopting the electoral law of 1960. We agreed on having the new law based on the qada, but we suggested developing or adjusting the 1960 law," he added

"It is more than 40 years old. Why not make some adjustments to it?"

Hamdan denied to The Daily Star on Monday that the opposition wanted ministers affiliated to the president to be non-voting Cabinet members. "The opposition wants the president to play a conciliatory role and not take sides with one party against another," he said.

Meanwhile, Gemayel's political adviser, Salim Sayegh, gave The Daily Star his version of some of the issues discussed in the two four-hour meetings.

Sayegh accused the opposition of not wanting to elect a new president.

"It is clear by now that they don't want the election to take place. They are imposing more and more conditions," he said.

"They not only want to cut a deal on the shape of the next government or the distribution of the main portfolios, but they also want to discuss every other portfolio," he added.

Sayegh also said the opposition has put Suleiman's candidacy back on the negotiation table.

"They are implying that they have made a big concession by accepting Suleiman. They are acting as if Suleiman was part of the majority's quota," he added.

The Arab initiative calls for the immediate election of Suleiman, the formation of a national unity government, and the drafting of a new electoral law for the 2009 parliamentary elections.

The opposition initially wanted veto power (11 seats) in the next Cabinet, but a number of its leaders said last week they were ready to accept a three-way power sharing formula that gives 10 ministers for each of the president, parliamentary majority, and opposition.

But the ruling coalition denounced the 10+10+10 formula as a "Syrian recipe" and said it was aimed at blocking Lebanon's presidential election.

Beirut 26-02-2008
The Daily Star

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