News from Beirut April 8  1997 ...Search

Lebanon's Presidency, Resignation

In a surprise move yesterday, President Elias Hrawi was quoted as saying he would resign if the municipal elections are not held on time. Kesrouan MP Rshaid el Khazen, who quoted the President during his visit, said the President considered withdrawing the draft bill because of a constitutional violation. Hrawi was also quoted as saying that the way out now is to hold the municipal elections which will enhance national unity. He added that the President was firm to his stand and wants elections be held anyway, and he agreed to the formation of the ministerial committee on the condition that it prepares a draft bill on amendments that ensure elections will take place at the earliest possible.

President Hrawi is intending to hold a press conference tomorrow to clear out the whole story of the elections and his personal view of it. He will also clear out his differences with the Prime Minister and the Speaker, the issue of  constitutional amendments, his prerogatives and role in running the state affairs, and at last to clarify the comments made by MP el Khazen.

The angry remarks proved that the reported ease of strain was not realistic. Hrawi is now facing a crisis on two fronts; one with the Prime Minister and the other with the Speaker. Observers in Beirut think that the enhancement of  relations between Prime Minister Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri prompted  Hrawi to become more radical. They said Hrawi may try to benefit from the last weeks parliament's move to advocate amendments that makes him a real  partner in the decision making process on crucial issues. Some observers say that the campaign for the coming presidential election seems to have been opened earlier. They said the municipal elections would not take place during President Hrawi's term.

The morning news on possible presidential resignation was denied by  presidential sources at noon. The sources added that the President was  affirmative in saying he is the head of the state, protector of the constitution, and entrusted to run the country.

Damascus is said to have reiterated its stand toward the recent Lebanese events by contending that "the Lebanese due local municipal elections should have a Lebanese unanimous support, and any disagreements on that issue should not undermine the function of the institutions and make disagreements dictate the relations between the statesmen".

Paris did not make any comment on the election since it views it as an internal matter. However, the French officials have advised their Lebanese counterparts that the elections are an important event. They said the elections would widen the power sharing namely involving the Christians, improve the image of the country, offer a chance of new legitimacy to the present rule, improve and enhance the trust between citizens and officials, and after all the municipalities are the best mean of service in a country recently coming out of war.

Lebanese opposition groups, namely the Christian groups in Paris, see itself as a winner in either cases. They said monitoring the public opinion  indicate why the officials in Beirut sought to postpone it. They pointed out that the municipal elections would have drastically changed the internal balance, or at least it could have revealed the fragility of popularity of those in power.

Former President Amin Gemayel said postponing the elections, same as many other events that occurred in Lebanon, was part of the play. He added that the practice in Beirut is a sort of  preparing a Bosnia like war, with the oppression centered on a group of the Lebanese people. He mentioned practices such as the naturalization law, the parliamentary elections law, and the recent decision to turn east Beirut to a garbage and waste dump for the coast, while the main focus is given to other  areas. Gemayel said the postponement was not a surprise because it is an additional maneuver.

General Michel Aoun, who is determined not to come back to Lebanon now despite the expiration of the exile legal period which he himself rejected, said the postponement of the elections is a triple defeat, first for the administration which failed to organize the elections, second for the political authority which continue to play down with the citizen's interest, and thirdly for the judiciary system which seems to be discharged or prevented from doing its job. Aoun said what had happened indicate that the game is corrupted in its roots, and all what is wanted to take place has to be in the interest of the ruling authority. Asked if there is difference between  President Hrawi and the Prime Minister or the Speaker, Aoun said there is no difference. He affirmed that Beirut, Tripoli, and Zahle were expected to vote in favour of the opposition, also the university and high academies students. He said for that specific reason some university students were arrested in north Lebanon recently, as they were distributing nonpolitical leaflets explaining simply the municipal elections merit. Raymond Edde view the case from a wider scope. He refused any elections in an occupied country.

Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted by his visitors saying yesterday he expects the deliberation of the ministerial committee to end with the adopting of appointment of the municipal councils instead of elections. He revealed that the Prime Minister had suggested that before his government decided to hold elections. Mr. Berri defended himself against those who are claiming that he was not in favour of elections. He said the draft bill amendment stipulated the appointment of  municipal councils in the security zone, something meant that he will not face any problem. As to the south liberated areas, out of the security zone, "the parliamentary elections had just finished and the result of the poll proved that the least number of votes, won by his ticket candidates, was 20 thousand more than the highest number won by candidates of the other rival ticket,"

MP Rshaid el Khazen, who was one of President Hrawi's visitors and who quoted him giving such remark on resignation, said that the withdrawal of the draft bill last week does not mean the postponement of elections. He said it can be held anytime according to the 1977 law. Khazen said there were two parliamentary elections in 1992 and 1996, some had boycotted, but now all the parties announced they will participate in the municipal elections. He said the way out could be to send again the draft bill to parliament with slight and fast amendments. Khazen said the municipal elections could be held during the summer season as it is more important than the tourism season. He excluded any regional motives behind the postponement, adding that the draft bill was laid down by the government under the same unchanged regional circumstances. "The repatriation of the displaced, which was given as a pretext to justify postponing the elections, could be accelerated instead of the current slow process", Khazen said.

The recently formed ministerial committee under Minister of the Interior Michel Murr is to meet Thursday at 11.00 a.m. Former Prime Minister Selim Hoss said the committee is not sufficient to remedy the negative impacts of what had happened. He said the setback of the municipal elections and the postponement came after government malpractice on the Lebanese University LU, and the resignation of the head of the Constitutional Council. All that had shaken the credibility of the government. Hoss added the postponement of the municipal elections had become an inevitable reality, and it was a major blow to democracy and people's gambling on reviving the local councils work.

Zahle MP George Kassarji pointed out that the ministerial committee could be a suitable way out. He said the government, afraid of the people's feelings, had worked to blow the elections. Kassarji said if the government does not fix a date for the elections until July this year, he would ask for a vote of confidence because by that it will breach pledges it had made in the ministerial policy statement.

The Kataeb party said extraditing the draft bill was a shock to the public, and has deepened the depression in the country. The Lebanese People's Front called the government to hold elections according to 1977 law, and replaces the electoral card by identity cards.

The Change Movement (Aoun loyalists) said the direct reason of postponement was the call of Gen. Michel Aoun to the Lebanese to participate in the elections.

Media National Council

A consultative report laid down by the Media National Council on Saturday, advising the licensing of two political radio stations, four non-political stations, and not any T.V new station, out of 33 new applications, was not satisfying for the media which expected a different report. Minister of Information Bassem Sabbaa said the door is not closed yet for more applications but in conformity with the law in effect. He added that the government is tending to adopt the advise of the council. The National Council said the refusal of the applications' files was due to legal violations and not for any political reasons. The opposition circles said the Prime Minister dictated the council and the licensing of two stations was merely a smoke bomb to overshadow his real attitudes.

Lebanon-Russian Federation

Yesterday, Prime Minister Rafic Hariri started his first day visit to Moscow. He held talks with his counterpart and Foreign Minister Poliakov. Hariri signed agreements on encouraging investments, prevention of double taxation, cultural and scientific exchange, and the formation of a joint committee to promote trade and economy exchanges. Mr. Hariri cited the trade balance deficit with Russia recalling Lebanon's imports of around $100 million compared to only $15 million exports from Lebanon. He stressed the need to increase trade exchanges. Russian Federation Foreign Minister Poliakov, in response to a question on US bid to exclude Moscow from the peace process, said it is not easy to exclude Moscow by any party. He pledged that his country will play the role of full partner. Hariri asked Moscow to exert efforts to push ahead the peace process in its capacity as one of the two sponsors.

The Russian officials told Hariri they will pressure the Russian Jews to pressure in turn the Israeli government to return back to the peace talks table. They also told Hariri they are coordinating with Europe to exert pressure on Washington or at least to make a parity. They stressed their rejection of the Israeli settlement policy in the Palestinian self rule land, called for return to the Madrid foundation, in support with Lebanon to implement the 425 resolution, rejects the "Lebanon First" proposal, also reject dissociating Lebanese and Syrian tracks. Mr. Hariri is to meet today with President Boris Yeltsin.

Lebanon-Pope Visit

The schedule of his pontiff's visit to Lebanon was not yet officially announced. Some reports said it is due to differences on details between the presidency and the premiership, as well as differences between Bkerke and the Vatican mission. Papal Nuncio announced yesterday, after a meeting with Cardinal Sfair, he will announce tomorrow at noon the official schedule.

News in Brief

- US Ambassador Richard Jones said after a visit to Speaker Nabih Berri that his country is working to rebuild confidence among the parties to the peace process when the violence actions halt and the general situation returns to the right path.

- Cardinal Sfair told visitors the government should close the file of  displaced, and ensure enough allocations, so that peace and stability can be restored.

- Constitutional Council Head's resignation is still a row. The council is due to meet tomorrow in the absence of the head.The row now is over the mechanism and legality of taking decisions on the appeals presented to the council after the resignation of the head judge Wajdi Mallat.

- Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz, now in New Delhi to attend the nonaligned Movement's conference met aside the conference with Yasser Arafat, and counterparts from Egypt, Oman, Syria, Jordan, Italy, Libya, Iraq and Colombia. He signed a cultural agreement with India. Mr. Boueiz contacted his South African counterparts asking to provide facilities to the Lebanese going to be evacuated from Zaire via Johannesburg. He also called upon his French counterpart for the same purpose.

- MP Najah Wakim described the case of the Japanese Army members as scandal, adding that Japan did not formally ask for their extradition, and being a member of the group is not a criminal charge in Lebanon. Wakim said the Japanese now became five not eight because three were spying in Lebanon for a Japanese security agency and they left Lebanon without any charge. Wakim questioned if spying in Lebanon was allowed for anyone. He also questioned why the government here remembered their case after residing for 15 years in Lebanon with forged passports.

- Preparations are underway for the 18th April Qana massacre. List of intensive activities and rallies are to be held for the occasion.

Sports Round Up

- Lebanon and Singapore football teams are getting ready for the match scheduled on Sunday in the Asian 7th group of the world cup. Finals are going to be held in Paris in 1998. The Singapore team arrived to Beirut Monday. The Lebanese national team with their coach Terry Urath are now training at a special camp in Tripoli. Coach of the Singapore team said they are coming to gain more experiences.

- Lebanon Basketball's cup for the first group 15 teams is going to be finally held today at Mont La salle. Shabiba- Bushrieh and Riyadi-Ghazir are contesting for the cup.

- Nijmeh football club dismissed five of its players including the Syrian Assaf Khalifeh, Iraqi Onmasr Ahmad, Mohammed Lawson of Sierra Leone, and the two Lebanese Bassam Shehab and Issa Alouche.  More Lebanese players are to be dismissed in the coming days.

- Nijmeh striker Bilal Flaifel left to Spain for foot surgery. Another Nijmeh player underwent the same surgery three years ago by the same Spanish surgeon.

- Safa club decided the dismissal of Syrian player Yasser Sibai.

- The Palestinian Ibrahim Manasri and Sierra Leonian Nabioh left to Sweden for tests at a Swedish club offering contracts for the two players.

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