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Lebanon News

Sleiman: Polls should be held on time ‘at any price’

Cardinal Beshara Rai and President Michel Sleiman meet at Bkirki on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013. (The Daily Star/DalatiNohra HO)

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman reiterated Sunday the need for holding elections on time, saying not doing so would be a “big sin,” and voiced opposition to extending the mandate of Parliament as the country prepares for parliamentary consultations to name the next prime minister.

Sleiman also said the next government would be tasked with overseeing the upcoming elections and safeguarding Lebanon from the repercussions from the crisis in neighboring Syria.

“If holding the elections based on the ‘1960 law’ is a big mistake, not holding the polls and extending [Parliament’s terms] is a big sin,” he told reporters after meeting Cardinal Beshara Rai in Bkirki.

“The [parliamentary] elections must be held on time at any price,” he said.

Many of the political parties in the country oppose the so-called ‘1960 law,’ – a qada-based, winner-takes-all voting system used in the 2009 parliamentary elections – but have yet to agree on a new voting system to replace it.

Weeks before the resignation of the government, Sleiman and the country’s prime minister signed a decree calling for the elections to be held on June 9 on the basis of the “1960 law,” in a move that was slammed by the March 8 alliance.

Last week Sleiman suspended Cabinet sessions after ministers failed to pass the formation of an elections committee to oversee the upcoming elections on the basis of the “1960 law.”

The March 8 coalition regarded the formation of the committee as a step toward holding the polls under the “1960 law.”

The president, who has described the divisive law as “dead but waiting to be buried,” acknowledged Sunday that the vast majority of Lebanese opposed the “1960 law” but said they were just as keen on holding the polls.

“Most of the Lebanese do not want the ‘1960 law’ but all the Lebanese want the elections and want to [see] the rotation of power,” he said.

His comments come a day after Rai accused some lawmakers of secretly seeking to hold the elections based on the “1960 law.”

Sleiman, who later attended an Easter Mass, also said he opposed extending the mandate of Parliament.

“I will not sign a decree to extend the term of Parliament,” he said.

Talk of extending the Parliament’s term has surfaced in recent weeks given the lack of consensus on a proposal to replace the amended version of the 1960 law.

Sleiman blamed Lebanon’s political rivals and Parliament for the political deadlock in the country and insisted he would not go for extending the terms of current lawmakers.

“Extension [of Parliament] is something that is rejected,” he said, adding: “There is nothing that prevents holding the elections on time.”

Commenting on the formation of a new government, Sleiman said the next Cabinet would be tasked with “holding the elections, preserving civil peace and security in Lebanon and limiting the repercussions of the Syrian crisis on the country.”

The president has set April 5 and 6 as the dates to poll parliamentary blocs and independent lawmakers on their choice for a new prime minister-designate, who would in turn form a Cabinet.

Sleiman Sunday also separated the question of resuming National Dialogue among rival political leaders and the issue of forming a new government.

“[National] Dialogue is a separate issue to the formation of the Cabinet and I will call for a Dialogue session,” he said.

Some parties in the country have argued that National Dialogue should be a prelude to the formation of the next government.

However, sources close to the president have told The Daily Star that Sleiman favors nominating a prime minister-designate first, followed by a resumption of National Dialogue, and the formation of the Cabinet.

 

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