News from Beirut April 5  1997 ...Search

Hrawi- Municipal Elections

President Elias Hrawi, angered and frustrated of the yet unofficial postponement of the municipal elections, told visitors that withdrew their support for a draft bill amending municipalities law , that such a move is regrettable, describing the measure as a violation of the constitution, customs, and laws.

Minister of Agriculture Shawki Fakhoury, a close ally to the president, attacked the Prime Minister at a press conference yesterday, from a legal and political viewpoint. He accused Prime Minister Hariri of violating the constitution, the rules of the parliament internal discipline, and all customs. Fakhoury said Hariri's stand was unilateral and taken according to his personal convictions, "after all it does not represent the government's policy". He contended that it was President Hrawi's right to refuse withdrawing the bill. Contrary to government and parliament view that see the withdrawal of the bill as legal.

Mediations, including one by the Syrian leadership, is now underway focusing on clearing the atmospheres, finding a legal way out on the withdrawal of the bill, and paving the way for the government to redefine it's stand on elections. Predictions today said the municipalities elections would be postponed for one year, or perhaps until next spring or autumn, if the preparations for it are completed. The present municipal councils term would be extended before June, the expiration date of term in office.

Armenian deputy Khatchik Babikian after a visit to President Hrawi said the government would decide a new date for the municipal elections, adding that such date would not be very soon. He said the government will try to clarify what municipality law will be in effect, and possibly a new law or decree will be formulated.

Minister of Agriculture Shawki Fakhoury's press conference yesterday was a  political bombshell, reflecting the views of President Elias Hrawi. He accused Premier Hariri of violating the constitution, laws, and all customs which stipulate that the government takes decisions after consultation.

Fakhoury announced, "Death of the municipalities elections which has been endlessly postponed, forcing citizens to live under a miserable situation, and closed one of the democratic windows which could have allowed young people to rebuild their country and achieve balanced development." . He said the President has the right to object government decisions within 15 days time and the right to refuse signing a new law extending term in office of the present municipal councils. Fakhoury denied that regional influences led to the move by parliament.

Prime Minister Hariri was quoted as saying that withdrew of the draft bill amending the municipalities law was in the interest of all parties; the elections has been postponed for a short time, and his government will set new date for elections.

Minister of Interior Michel Murr admitted yesterday that the official views varied on the elections. He said officially the government should call citizens to vote but so far this move is not possible. He asserted that he was assuring the public on Tuesday that the elections will be held on time. He noted that until  the last moment he was with holding the elections because the credibility of the state and  him was at stake. Murr said his ministry will continue to issue and deliver the electoral cards.

Yesterday, Cardinal Sfair urged Lebanon's officials to lay down proper laws before calling people to apply it, because a law should be fair and just not discriminating anyone. He observed that splits among the officials reflect itself on all issues, and especially it is igniting conflicts in towns and villages for something "not worthy."

Baalbeck MP and pro-Syrian Baath Socialist party official Assem Qansou said some factors arose during the parliament plenary session, namely on the Christian displaced villages in Mount Lebanon, and the postponement of  elections was demanded until the issue is resolved. Asked if the elections were postponed or canceled, he said he is awaiting a government decision, and perhaps there would be an extension of term or postponement until October this year or next year's spring. Asked if there was regional or local factors behind the parliament move, he said, "Ask the Prime Minister why he asked to withdrew the draft bill ."

NLP party under Douri Chamoun said after a meeting yesterday it is "sticking to holding the municipal elections, and bearing responsibility of  delaying the relevant law to the ruling persons, despite the party repeated warnings of the impacts of delay."

The Gathering for Lebanon (Gen. Aoun loyalists) criticized the postponement of elections and said it is a natural result after the readiness and mobility achieved by the national free opposition and it's decision to participate in the elections. The Gathering said the resignation of Wajdi Mallat represents a sort of mercy bullet on the remains of the fake democracy in Lebanon.

Muslim senior clerics said Friday the postponing of the elections was a wise step because holding it would have evoked problems. Imam Mohammed Mahdi Shamseddine said, "the parliament move could be understood, though the country needs elections, but it could have evoked problems." Muslim Shiite Mufti Abdel Amir Kabalan pointed out, "Thanks God for relaxing people of the elections, the officials have things more important to take care of, hoping that the move would serve the public interest and the national unity."

Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah noted, "The local situation is now facing shake downs and complications because of the government policy errors, resulting from treating issues in an unbalanced planning." Sayyed Fadlallah added that the LU crisis, the municipal elections, the resignation of the Constitutional Council's head, in addition to the economical situation's uncertainties, are all examples of the government hazardous treatments.

He said the tensed address of many parties is an evidence that the country being in a shake down that might not lead to collapse of the temple, but it would keep the country in a state of instability, unbalance and disunity.

News analysts today were varied and not certain about what could have been the reasons behind the postponement. Some analysts said it was learnt after the last summit in Damascus, that three taboos were drawn;

(1) the municipal elections should not take place in the atmosphere of no entente between the ruling side and other forces and alliances, something would pose Lebanon to a major political shake down;

(2) The Constitutional Council not to take decisions which would cause rows and splits, namely if  those decisions lead to parliamentary provisional elections in some constituencies;

(3) To have a government change at this stage.

The three taboos said to have been simultaneous and difficult to make it go on the same time. The taboos were necessitated by the coming regional delicate phase. Another analysts predicted that there would be either a national unity government be formed and given the right by parliament to appoint councils, or holding the elections would continue postponement until the coming president's term.

Constitutional Council Head's Resignation

The resignation of judge Wajdi Mallat, simultaneous with the row over the municipalities elections, continue to dominate the scene. The Council's first meeting yesterday, after the resignation of the head, under Mohammed Majzoub, was inconclusive. 8 out of the 10 members discussed the resignation and the meeting was adjourned until next Wednesday. Two other members will leave to Paris Tuesday to attend a seminar. Observers say any decision on the 19 appeals presented to the council challenging some winners of  parliamentary seats would not be possible before two weeks. The parliament by law elects five of the 10 members, and the government elects five others, now with the resignation of Mallat, elected by parliament, one power is overcoming the other. The resignation of judge Mallat seen here as a rejection to the miserable situation dominating all state institutions.

Lebanon Bar Associations in Beirut and Tripoli decided a half hour protest halt during court sessions on Tuesday in protest against the  resignation of judge Mallat, expressing their pain to what is going on, warning of continuing same path, in protest to Minister Murr's dictation to a judge who refused the minister's appointment of many mayors.

M.E-South Lebanon

After calling his Syrian counterpart Farouk Sharaa yesterday, Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz denied reports saying that Syria has decided to suspend its participation in the 5 nations cease-fire monitoring group in Southern Lebanon.

Boueiz said he asked the US ambassador, during their meeting yesterday, about the report and the ambassador denied he has any information on that. The report was published recently in a foreign daily newspaper. Minister Boueiz is scheduled to leave today to New Delhi-India to attend the nonaligned movement conference.

After two separate meetings with Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, US Ambassador Richard Jones said his country is hopeful that the Palestinian and Israeli peace talks would resume next week. He said US veto at UN on Jewish settlements does not mean a US acceptance of the Israeli policy.

News In Brief

- Former Prime Minister Selim Hoss expressed his regret to the resignation of  judge Wajdi Mallat. Hoss, after a visit to Beirut Maronite Bishop Boulos Mattar, said the Constitutional Council's head should have faced all pressures and confronted it.

- MP Issam Fares received a letter from US former Senator George Mitchell, who recently visited Lebanon heading a delegation, briefing Mr. Fares of a response he received from US Secretary of State Mrs. Albright. She said she will review the travel ban on Lebanon by end of this year and decide whether the ban will be lifted or not, in view of the necessary factors particularly ensuring safety of the Americans. Mitchell said some 7,600 Americans were planning to come to Lebanon during the shopping festival but because of the travel ban they did not call their embassy. He also said that thousands of Americans are breaching the travel ban.

- Argentinean President Carlos Menem granted Lebanon's Minister of immigration Talal Arsalan, now visiting Argentine, the highest decoration. Argentinean Minister of Interior has decorated Minister Arsalan on behalf of the President.

- Minister of Information Bassem Sabbaa said licensing more audio visual media stations will be first based on the legal conditions; second the technical aspect; and thirdly on the political one. He said prior censorship on satellite broadcasted programmes is not a danger to freedoms but merely an administrative measure.

- Minister of Health Suleiman Franjieh in a visit yesterday to south Lebanon to check health centers and the health needs, namely to villages close to the front lines with Israel. He visited Speaker Nabih Berri at his south residence, visited MP Bahia Hariri in Sidon and Qana carnage site and various health centers.

- Sheikh Saeed Shaaban reiterated the he did not object a visit by Pope John Paul II to Lebanon, neither he had attacked President Elias Hrawi. He assailed the media which distorted his earlier speech on Sunday. He said he is reiterating his earlier remarks and conviction that the execution of three persons was unfair. News reports today mentioned that Islamic groups including Hizbullah, former MP Fathi Yakan, Sheikh Subhi Tufeili, Muslim Ulema in Tripoli and north, all defended Sheikh Shaaban saying there should not be exaggeration and threats in the case of Sheikh Shaaban, urging officials to deal with the case in a dialogue manner far from warnings and intimidations.

- Execution in Lebanon is a controversial issue. Psychology and social scientists denounce the measure, but legal experts are divided with some denounce it and others support it but with some reservations.

- Bekaa MPs gathering held yesterday was the first meeting with 13 MPs and a minister attending the meeting. The new parliamentary gathering discussed the development priorities and the issue of municipal elections.

- Rafic Abi Yunis, recently released from Syrian detention after two and half years, visited Bkerke with a delegation including relatives and friends, to express gratitude to Cardinal Sfair for his efforts to make the release possible. News analysts said it is President Elias Hrawi who asked for the release during his last trip to Damascus. President Hrawi told Cardinal Sfair about the imminent release during his visit to Bkerke on Easter. Another news analyst said the release of Yunis, a pro Iraq Baath party branch official in Lebanon, has given hope to loyals of  Samir Geagea of similar release, but the analyst said such comparison is not realistic .

- Lebanon's branch of the Pan Arab Baath Socialist party celebrated the birthday of the party in rallies and seminars held at Bekaa, Mount Lebanon, and other regions in Lebanon. Speakers at Beirut seminar said the Brotherhood and Cooperation treaty with Syria could be adopted as a typical Arabic treaty.

Sports Round up

- Lebanese Ali Hamade defeated Thai player 7-6,7-5, 7-6 in a 2.28 hour match yesterday at Kahraba closed stadium in the first day of the semi-finals of Asia-Oceanea group two of Tennis Davis Cup. Lebanese tennis player Hisham Zaatini also defeated Thai player 3-6,6-3,6-3, and 6-2. The two singles make Lebanon score Thai with 2-0.

- Shabab Sahel and Homentmen played a scoreless football game yesterday in  the Adha 10th tournament organized by Safa club.

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