News from Beirut April 9  1997 ...Search

Municipal Elections, The Dominant Topic

In Beirut, the possibility of holding a municipal elections is still in the air, and  President Elias Hrawi's press conference this evening might add another twist to this problem. The municipal elections seems to be inevitable; some predict the months of October or November to be the middle point date for the elections since such a time  is adequate to review the relevant law by both the government and parliament. Nonetheless, such a compromise will not change the plan of appointing municipal councils in the security zone or at some of the displaced villages in Mount Lebanon.

Damascus visitors quoted the Syrian leadership affirming that they won't be involved in the minutes and details of the municipal elections, preferring the whole issue to be settled from within the institutions and in framework of mutual cooperation. The Syrian capital was also quoted saying any approach to any file should take into consideration the rank and dignity of the presidency. It was also quoted saying if the course of events tend to touch  on the image and prestige of the President, in that case it favors the elections to be held, and there will be no problem in fixing a new date for it at the earliest possible.

Anticipating what President Elias Hrawi would announce today at his evening press conference is the main story today. The press conference might be moderate, not fiery, and he is expected to explain series of steps that forced the government to decide on holding the elections. He will emphasize on holding the elections and seeking to restore the best possible circumstances for that, after it had turned to be a public demand. He will outline in detail the measures that had been taken at both the public and the official levels. President Hrawi visitors quoted him saying he is entrusted by the constitution to do his job, thus he won't resign.

Prime Minister Rafic Hariri is following up the situation in Beirut from Moscow. He was reported to be concerned and interested about reports by the Lebanese media, namely what both President Hrawi and Speaker Berri were to say on the issue. Mr. Hariri did not make any comment.

Minister of Interior Michel Murr continued his shuttle diplomacy between President Hrawi and Speaker Berri in a bid to clear the atmosphere and keep things under control. He visited Damascus yesterday where he met senior officials and briefed them on the situation in Lebanon. Murr told Speaker Berri yesterday that President Hrawi's press conference won't be escalatory and the concepts he would announce are normal and familiar.

Yesterday, Speaker Nabih Berri thanked the President for his condolence cable to him on the decease of his uncle Ibrahim Berri. He also denied media reports saying that they were inaccurate, especially the one quoting him supporting appointments. Mr. Berri said the municipal elections are better than the present prevailing situation, but the elections should depend on a bill based on four basic points:

(1) to divide quarters of various towns in Lebanon for electing mayors

(2) to define the villages where there should be municipal councils

(3) the electoral cards and

(4) correcting the electoral lists.

He said the bill that was sent to the parliament did not include such points. He added the card we were expecting is not the one that has been accomplished. He asked the Minister of Interior on dividing quarters in towns ,with over 3,000 population, in order to elect mayors, and Murr answered saying it was difficult for him to arrange that because it needs too much time as it is supposed to include all towns in Lebanon.

Berri said the parliament dealt with the issue with extreme positiveness, to avoid accusing him of undermining and obstructing. And the parliament voted unanimously in favour of holding the elections, while dealing positively with the draft bill they sent though it was not convenient, but the government and Prime Minister Hariri asked him for a postponement, he then conditioned the bill to be withdrawn and so it was.

Hrawi-Hariri meeting last Sunday at Baabda was given a highlight today. Press reports said Mr. Hariri said at the beginning that he is "ready to resign if your excellency see it important". He was calm and tranquil, offering to cooperate fully, expressing respect to the presidency, and said he will be keen to adhere to the constitutional rules governing the relation between presidency and premiership. President Hrawi was harsh in criticizing Hariri's way of  practice, accusing him of intentional harming of the presidency and even attempting to step over if not trying to annul it as happened on the decision to postpone the elections, without consulting the President and obtaining his approval.

The local opposition circles said Mr. Hariri is now facing two options, either to resign or retreat the decision to postpone elections, especially after President Hrawi insisted on holding the elections even after the formation of the ministerial committee. A government change would be seriously under discussion if the government failed to resolve the crisis of municipalities at its next meeting. The opposition said Hariri's government failed to carry on all four basic objectives including administrative reform, administrative reshuffles, treating the economical crisis, and the municipal elections.

The government did not accomplish any of the issues included in the ministerial policy statement, and now it is at a stand still. President Hrawi has hinted to a government change in his last meetings with Syrian officials. He provoked Mr. Hariri who was not informed of such a move. Hrawi perhaps wanted to minimize Hariri share in the present government. However, a government change would be the last remaining solution in hand if the municipalities' crisis is to face an impasse.

State minister Elias Hanna, 48 hours before a meeting of the 8 man ministerial committee, held talks with other members and visited President Hrawi at Baabda. He said it is now difficult to hold elections on time as decided earlier, but it could be held few weeks later as of 16th June and in accordance with 1977 law. He added that giving new dates and ensuring the best possible circumstances to hold elections would calm down the public. Hanna said it is not in the interest of any party to discuss last week parliament move whether constitutional or not because it was a political matter.

He said the 1 and 8 June are impossible dates for the elections and we are faced with limited options. The 1977 law, with an addition of some provisions on the electoral cards, municipalities in the occupied security zone, and some displaced villages, which were all not stipulated in the old law, is one option. Hanna refused to make a link between the law and the laws on decentralization and administrative division.

State minister Ghazi Seifeddine said yesterday in his capacity as a Baath party official he gives priority to consolidating Lebanon's internal situation, though the municipal elections is an urgent matter. He noted that the crack has widened in Lebanon's society on the issue. He questioned why the hurry now, recalling that no elections had been held since 1963, and why there had been no persistence until 1975. Seifeddine said the elections now has negative impacts and it could bring again a strife. He said the internal situation should serve the general position against the Israeli enemy.

Lebanese opposition groups in Paris and Beirut continue to mobilize for the elections regardless of the row on the draft bill. The opposition thinks perhaps the latest scenario was aimed at taking it in surprise, such as setting an inconvenient date for the elections. Some 1.1 million voters would participate in the municipal elections, compared to only 800,000 participant during the last parliament elections. The opposition said it will continue to obtain electoral cards the same as before.

Lebanon-Pope Visit

The recent events in Lebanon, though local, evoked fears of dramatic developments prior to the visit. The Vatican continues to arrange for the visit with utmost care and accuracy. News resources said hundreds of journalists and reporters would escort his pontiff. Lebanese journalists will be chosen and given special cards. Security measures are discussed in detail with the army command and plans will be held secret for his pontiff's safety. Earlier reports said a special helicopter will be put at his disposal to move inside Lebanon, but other report said a special anti bullet proof automobile will be airlifted on the plane and be used by his pontiff to move in some streets and cheers the public. His pontiff's speech will be typed in three languages including English, French, and Arabic. The Pope will deliver it in French. The Vatican circles said the local developments in Lebanon has nothing to do with the visit. His pontiff will sign the synod statement which later is sought to be implemented after it becomes an official document.

Detailed report concerning the sale of the Kaslik university land property, including names of those involved, civic and religious also foreigners was laid down. The report encouraged the concerned authorities in Lebanon and Vatican to cancel the package deal. Attempts are underway to prevent an inquiry on the case with the encouragement of a religious diplomat, a media article said.

Bishop Elias Audi received Papal Nuncio Pablo Puente who said he discussed the Pope's visit. He said his pontiff wishes to meet G.Orthodox Patriarchs and Bishops during the visit.

News In Brief

- Prime Minister Hariri is to end his official visit to the Russian Federation today and leave to Canada. Russian President Boris Yeltsin said after receiving Hariri his country is willing to promote relations with Lebanon. Mr. Hariri said President Yeltsin assured support to the implementation of the UN resolution 425, and the fusion between Lebanese and Syrian peace tracks.

- Canada's Prime Minister announced the visit of Mr. Hariri on 10 to 14 of April. He said Canada is backing the reconstruction process and seeks a permanent peace in Middle East. He announced Mr. Hariri is going to meet ministers of foreign affairs. Hariri will go later to Edmenton and then to Montreal.

- Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz is following up the measures aimed at evacuating Lebanese nationals from the war torn Zaire. Many Lebanese are going to evacuate today via Johannesburg. Minister Boueiz is to escort on his way back to Beirut the Liberian Foreign Minister Mony Coptan, who will visit Lebanon and meet senior officials to discuss bilateral relations, Lebanese community in Liberia, and the peace process. Mr. Coptan is going to visit relatives in Tripoli-north.

- Israeli warplanes staged mock raids over Nabatieh and Iqlim Toffah. Israeli  Awax reconnaissance plane, also huge helicopter planes, flew over Southern Lebanon. The same planes were reported flying earlier to the April blitz last year. Israeli artillery shelling was reported at resistance hideouts. Israeli warplanes combed the Litani river course and vicinity of Beaufort castle.

- Minister of immigration Talal Arsalan left Argentine ending his visit and arriving in London in a private visit.

- Minister of Social Affairs Ayoub Hmayed met the Bahraini Foreign Minister in Manama and urged him to reopen his country's embassy in Beirut.

- Cardinal Sfair received yesterday representatives of the south council and the displaced fund, as well as MP George Kassarji and foreign delegations.

- The Maronite League postponed general assembly meeting until the first of May and affirmed that the league's election will take place on the 6th of July.

- Lebanese lawyers half hour's halt yesterday protesting the resignation of  Judge Mallat took place in Beirut and North and in the other regions between 10:00 and 10:30 a.m.

- Minister of Culture and High Education Fawzi Hubeish affirmed that the Lebanese University's regional branches, namely in Tripoli, Tyre, and Sidon will be enhanced in the framework of the decentralization process.

Sports Round Up

- Singapore's football team coach said he is hoping the team would score one or more surprise in their game with Lebanon and Kuwait. He said the championship of the 7th group of the world cup would go definitely to either Lebanon or Kuwait, but his team would be making a surprise victory. He said the average age of his team members is 23 and they are not as experienced  as the Lebanese or Kuwaitis.

- The Lebanese Football Federation called all Lebanese and the media to prepare to support their national team in its match with Singapore, a first step in the way to the world Cup by Lebanon. The match will be held at Burj Hammoud stadium on the 13th of April.

- The Riyadi-Beirut and Hikmeh basketball teams will play today at Manara Beirut.

- Riyadi-Ghazir defeated Bushrieh yesterday with 3-0 in the final Lebanon volleyball tournament at Mont La Salle. The Ghazir victory deprived Bushrieh of scoring the cup for 96-97 season.

- Homentmen football team is to play today with Burj in the Adha 10th tournament.

- President of the Golf Federation Selim Salam announced that the Arab championship will be held in Lebanon from 6 to 11 of May.

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