Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Monday the government was determined to hold next year’s parliamentary elections on time in an attempt to dispel growing fears of a possible postponement over security concerns.
“The government is committed to holding the elections on time, out of respect for democratic rules and the principles of power rotation,” Mikati told reporters after speaking with his French counterpart Jean Marc Ayrault in Paris.
Mikati, who arrived in Paris Sunday for a three-day official visit, said three factors are crucial for Lebanon’s stability: Maintaining calm in southern Lebanon, promoting the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and continuing the government’s policy of disassociating with the 20-month-old bloody conflict in Syria, according to a statement released by his media office.
The prime minister underlined the significance of France’s participation in supporting the government’s plan to bolster the Lebanese Army’s military capabilities and providing it with equipment to enable it to maintain security in the country.
Mikati thanked the French government for its decision to support and shore up the capabilities of the Lebanese government, the statement said.
For his part, Ayrault praised Mikati’s efforts to protect Lebanon from the reverberations of the unrest in Syria.
He renewed “France’s solidarity with Lebanon and support for its constitutional institutions so that the country can stay away from the current conflict in Syria,” the statement said.
The French prime minister restated his country’s commitment to ensure stability in south Lebanon via the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. He demanded that the safety and security of French soldiers serving with UNIFIL be ensured, the statement added. Last year, two roadside bombings targeted French peacekeepers in south Lebanon, wounding 10 soldiers. Six Italian peacekeepers were also wounded in a similar roadside attack in the south.
Ayrault said France was ready to support the Lebanese Army and revive security cooperation programs between Lebanese and French institutions.
During a short visit to Lebanon on Nov. 4, French President Francois Hollande said that France’s participation in UNIFIL and its military support for the Lebanese Army were part of Paris’ efforts in ensuring peace in the Middle East. France has an estimated 1,100 soldiers serving with UNIFIL.
Mikati, accompanied by a number of ministers, is scheduled to hold talks with Hollande at the Elysee Palace Wednesday on the political crisis in Lebanon amid the opposition March 14 coalition’s calls for the government’s resignation and the formation of “a neutral salvation Cabinet.” How to protect Lebanon from the repercussions of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon will also figure high in the talks.
On the eve of this visit, Mikati, who has rejected March 14 calls to step down, offered to cooperate with the opposition in an attempt to explore a solution for the political crisis sparked by last month’s assassination of police intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.
Mikati’s visit to France came amid rising concerns for stability in Lebanon. The March 14 coalition announced a total boycott of the government and all Cabinet-related meetings in Parliament as part of its moves to pressure the government to resign.
The prime minister’s commitment to holding the elections in 2013 came amid warnings that security threats and the failure of the March 8 and March 14 parties to agree on a new electoral law might lead to postponing the vote.
Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said in a interview this month that there would be no parliamentary elections next year if they were held on the basis of the 1960 electoral law. The law, used in the 2009 elections, adopts the qada as an electoral district and is based on a winner-takes-all-system.
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun has also warned that the security situation in north Lebanon – the scene of Syrian violations on the Lebanese border and armed clashes between pro and anti-Assad supporters – would affect the holding of elections in the country.
Meanwhile, March 14 MPs reiterated the coalition’s demand for the formation of a neutral salvation Cabinet before attending any National Dialogue session, which President Michel Sleiman has been trying to convene in an attempt to find a solution to the political crisis.
“There will be no dialogue session on Nov. 29 before the current Cabinet is changed,” MP Marwan Hamadeh told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
Beirut MP Ammar Houri from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc said the March 14 parties will not participate in National Dialogue. He also rejected the idea of forming a national unity Cabinet representing the March 8 and March 14 parties.
However, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt renewed his call on all parties to attend National Dialogue sessions to discuss Sleiman’s proposals on “how to benefit from the resistance’s arms aimed at defending the country and to close ranks in this difficult and sensitive time in the region.”