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French Version

Berri ignores call for Parliamentary debate

Cabinet fails to appoint replacements for security chiefs during lackluster session

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has ignored President Lahoud's call to hold a parliamentary session to discuss a new electoral law to govern this month's elections.

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His failure to summon parliament means the poll is now almost certain to take place under the controversial 2000 law, which opposition figures believe favors pro-Syrian loyalists.

The new government also failed to appoint replacemennts for the outgoing security chiefs who resigned last month.

Despite the completion of the Syrian pullout last week, Lebanon's opposition insists the failure of parliament to adopt a more equitable electoral law is evidence that Damascus' influence in the country's political system remains strong.

As The Daily Star went to press Berri had not responded to Lahoud's call to discuss a new electoral law, made late Tuesday night. According to opposition MP and constitutional expert Mikhail Daher, it is the speaker's duty to hold a parliamentary session in order to present Lahoud's letter to parliament.

Nabatieh MP Ali Hassan Khalil, a Berri ally said: "The speaker only received the president's letter today. If he finds the law requires him to call for a parliament session, he will do so."

It is still unclear whether Berri call recall parliament without causing a postponement of the scheduled May 29 election start. According to the constitution, Lahoud has to sign the decree that calls voters to the ballots today, which means there is not time for a new law to be adopted.

Tripoli MP Jean Obeid, an ally of Damascus, said: "It would have been best if Lahoud addressed his letter to the speaker of the house a few days earlier and not a few hours before the end of the deadline for signing the decree to call voters."

The opposition-leaning Maronite Bishop's Council said given the lack of time, the adoption of the electoral draft law which was submitted by the last government, based on a 1960 law, offered the best framework to govern the elections. The 1960 law divides the country into small constituencies and is widely seen as favoring Christians and other minorities.

The council said: "The elections can only be genuine and representation can only be fair if all the factions of Lebanese society can elect whom they think represents them."

It is widely recognized that the division of constituencies in the law of 2000 effectively wipes out Christian votes in many areas, by merging them with Muslim majorities.

The Christian opposition Qornet Shehwan gathering said it had been trying to get hold of Berri in order to urge him to set a date for a parliamentary session for the past week, without any success.

The 2000 law was adopted when Syrian influence was at its

The council welcomed what it called "noticeable progress toward implementing some of the provisions," but expressed concern over "no progress on the implementation of other provisions of the resolution, in particular the disarmament of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militia."

It added that "the requirements of the resolution have not yet been met."

The statement also hinted that the council had not yet completely approved of the Syrian withdrawal, stressing the council "acknowledges that the full and complete Syrian withdrawal would represent a significant and important step toward restoring Lebanon's political independence and full exercise of its sovereignty."

But the head of the UN verification team in Lebanon Brigadier General Elhadji Mouhamadou Kandji said: "We have verified many positions, and ... we have not encountered a single Syrian."

But the team found itself involved in a shooting incident as it approached the border village of Qussaya, where the pro-Syrian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command still maintains positions.

A burst of gunfire was heard from the camp, an incident quickly deplored by Annan as a "hindrance to the team's freedom of movement."

Abu Anwar, PFLP-GC leader in Lebanon said: "The UN team did not alert our command of their visit, which ... provoked a minor misunderstanding.

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Beirut 05-05-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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