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French Version

'No comment' as Lebanon's leaders fail to form Cabinet

Hopes for timely elections fade

Lebanon's leaders failed to form a Cabinet last night in a move that is certain to end any hope of the country's elections taking place next month.

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Following a five-hour meeting at the Presidential Palace, President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri left the premises refusing to comment.

The latest impasse, which reveals serious cracks in the loyalist camp, was caused by political bickering over what posts some politicians were to be given.

It is understood that outgoing Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh, who earlier refused to serve in the new Cabinet, has agreed to remain in government provided he has a say in some of the appointments.

There are also differences between the prime minister-designate and the president over the electoral law which will govern the framework within which the elections must take place.

It was hoped the creation of a new Cabinet would end seven weeks of constitutional vacuum and lead the country into the parliamentary elections scheduled for May.

It remains unclear when the lineup will be unveiled.

Outgoing State Minister Albert Mansour indicated surprise by the move. Mansour said: "I have no information - I do not know what happened this evening."

But an insider who attended the meeting said Karami might decide on a new date during a meeting of the Ain al-Tineh loyalist camp later today.

Talks had been underway to resolve the dispute among politicians over the new electoral law. But as a solution was nearing, other problems arose over key Cabinet portfolios.

A source close to Franjieh said the firm Damascus ally had placed conditions on Karami and Lahoud in order to be a member of the new Cabinet.

The source said Lahoud had contacted Franjieh to propose the Labor portfolio "but Franjieh refused, saying he would only be part of the Cabinet if he is given the Health Ministry and if his ally, (Batroun MP) Sayed Akl, is given the Environment Ministry."

Another Syrian ally, outgoing Minister for the Displaced Talal Arslan, also insisted he be given the Public Works and Transport Ministry.

The original division had been over the electoral law, with Karami and Berri on the one side, wanting to revoke Franjieh's draft law and Franjieh and Lahoud wanting to go ahead with it because of a pledge made to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir.

But Karami had denied the fallout. He said: "The atmosphere with Minister Franjieh has always been positive."

Franjieh's draft law had been adopted by the outgoing Cabinet in February and was awaiting approval in Parliament before the February 14 killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri, which rocked the country and crippled its institutions.

The law, which divides the country into small electoral districts is out of favor with Karami, who has said on several occasions he wants to revoke it and propose an electoral law that combines large constituencies with a proportional vote-counting system - a move that would make it impossible to hold elections on time.

Karami was further placed in a difficult position Sunday when three pillars of the loyalist camp announced they want no part in his Cabinet.

Outgoing ministers Elie Ferzli and Elias Skaff, and deputy Speaker Michel Murr, announced they will not be members of the coming Cabinet.

The disputes have broken a long period of almost perfect synchronization that had earned Lahoud, Karami and Berri the title "troika."

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Beirut 12-04-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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