Mikati rules out election delays

Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Friday next year’s parliamentary polls would be held on time regardless of who was prime minister and whether or not the rival factions agreed on a new electoral law.

“The parliamentary elections will be held on time whoever is the prime minister. No one can delay the elections,” Mikati told reporters after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, north of Beirut, to congratulate him on his recent appointment by Pope Benedict XVI as a cardinal in the Catholic Church.

“Any government in office must call for the elections to be held on time because this is a constitutional deadline,” he said, referring to the elections scheduled in the spring of 2013.

“Whether or not we agree on a new [electoral] law, the elections must take place,” Mikati added.

The premier said he hoped the elections, deemed crucial by the March 8 and March 14 parties because the vote outcome would determine who controls the majority in the next Parliament, would be held on time without “any obstacles so that the Lebanese can exercise their democracy.”

Mikati’s remarks, apparently designed to dispel growing fears of a possible postponement of the vote over security concerns, came even as rival factions have yet to agree on a new electoral law on whose basis the elections would be held.

A similar commitment on holding the elections on time has been made by President Michel Sleiman.

Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said in a recent TV interview 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.

Although the Maronite Church has rejected the 1960 law, Rai said Tuesday the law could be used in the 2013 elections if no agreement was reached on a new electoral law.

Mikati also criticized the opposition March 14 coalition’s boycott of his government and all Cabinet-related meetings in Parliament as part of the coalition’s tactics to force the government’s resignation. He called for national unity to confront threats of instability and mounting tensions stoked by the 20-month-old bloody conflict in Syria.

“It is not logical to have a boycott by this or that party. We have to learn from the mistakes of the past, the mistakes of the Lebanese [1975-90] Civil War and from what the policy of isolation and boycott had led to,” Mikati said.

“All of us have to be united with the aim of saving our country, especially in these difficult circumstances through which Lebanon and the region are passing,” he said, adding: “We are today in very difficult circumstances. We have to close ranks with each other and not to wait for what will happen in Syria.”

The March 14 coalition’s boycott of this week’s National Dialogue session forced Sleiman to postpone the all-party talks to Jan. 7.

Lebanon was thrust into a political crisis following the Oct. 19 assassination Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, head of the police’s Information Branch.

The March 14 coalition has since demanded the government’s resignation after accusing it of complicity with the Syrian regime in Hasan’s killing. The coalition has also demanded the formation of “a neutral salvation Cabinet” to supervise next year’s parliamentary elections before attending any Dialogue session.

Meanwhile, ministers from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc met with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun as part of their visits to the rival factions to promote the Progressive Socialist Party’s political initiative aimed at bridging the wide gap between the two sides on a solution to the crisis.

Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour and Minister of the Displaced Alaaeddine Terro met Aoun at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.“We have reached some common points: the need to stress the importance of dialogue among the Lebanese, the need for a new reading of the political reality and the need for keeping channels open among all the parties,” Aridi told reporters after the meeting.

He added that the PSP ministers’ moves were not aimed at discussing a Cabinet change. Aridi said if there was no agreement on a new electoral law, the 2013 elections would be held on the basis of the 1960 law.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said engaging in National Dialogue with Hezbollah to solve the issue of its arsenal would be futile, adding that the resistance group had never abided by decisions taken in previous Dialogue sessions.

Speaking at a news conference at his Maarab residence, Geagea also slammed Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s threats against Israel, saying that the Lebanese had not authorized the party to set the country’s foreign policy.

“Hezbollah is not willing to discuss its arms. Therefore, on what grounds should we participate once more in Dialogue sessions?” Geagea asked. “We support Dialogue in principle but not one that has produced nothing but lies and cheating.”


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