Lebanon News

Jaber: Army says elections can be held safely

MP Yassin Jaber speaks during an interview with The Daily Star in Beirut, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: MP Yassin Jaber said Monday that the Lebanese Army gave assurances that parliamentary elections could be held in November in a safe atmosphere, adding that organizing general elections on time could break the country’s political impasse.

“As long as the government has called [for elections], it means they know what they’re doing,’” Jaber said during an interview with The Daily Star at his office in Beirut.

“The interior minister convened a security meeting and the news came out that the Army expressed its willingness and readiness to keep the peace for having elections,” added Jaber, a member of Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc.

Jaber said that his bloc believed that timely elections could help bring an end to the country’s presidential deadlock.

He added that in 2013, Parliament was only able to meet once to elect members of its committees, and barely convened in the following year and is now unable to elect a president.

“Usually when countries live with such an impasse, they dissolve Parliament and call for new elections to be able to really find solutions,” Jaber said.

“Let’s have elections, maybe we’ll have a new balance of power inside Parliament that will help things move forward,” Jaber said. “Maybe the new Parliament will elect a new president ... maybe then you will have more pressure on all parties to come up with a president.”

Despite assurances by the Army, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that security services have advised against holding parliamentary polls, given deteriorating security. Parliament extended its term in May 2013 for 17 months due to the security situation.

Jaber said that resuming legislative sessions, expected to take place next week after more than four months of paralysis, was “a step in the right direction.”

“All the necessary things have to be addressed [during the sessions] because there are so many issues that will affect Lebanon’s financial credibility, economy and social situation,” Jaber said. “If there is a political impasse in electing the president, we should not be accepting that the country collapses.”

Topping the agenda of the expected sessions would be a salary raise for the public sector, a draft law allowing the government to issue Eurobonds to finance state expenditure among other vital draft laws.

Asked whether energizing Parliament’s activity was part of a deal to extend the legislature’s term for another time, Jaber said extension would only take place if there was a majority supporting it.

“There is a law which has been presented by MP [Nicholas] Fattoush proposing to extend Parliament’s term ... we are going to vote against it,” he said.

Jaber said that a breakthrough between the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement was needed to end the presidential deadlock. “They started a dialogue. We were hoping that this dialogue would work. It has stalled and then it actually stopped. This is the situation at the moment.”

But he added that a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, the signs of which emerged after a meeting in New York between Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Saudi counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal Sunday, could help ease the presidential deadlock.

“I am hopeful that this rapprochement will address many issues and one of them is really helping Lebanon to empower itself by having a president and having active constitutional establishments.”

“But of course I again repeat that the problems we have are there and they are realities. They can only be resolved by hard work and by national unity and really working together to address these issues in depth.”

Jaber said that the country was facing an “existential threat” posed by terrorist groups and the presence of over a million Syrian refugees on its territory.

The Nabatieh lawmaker said he opposed swapping at least 21 Lebanese Army soldiers and policemen held by ISIS and the Nusra Front in the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal with convicted terrorists. He said that hastening the trials of detainees could be the solution.

“Exchanging prisoners, especially the convicted ones, is a very dangerous step to take,” Jaber said. “Once you do it once, every day they will capture more people, capture more soldiers and think it is a profitable way of doing things.”

“The best course is really to try to let the government work and the security agencies do what they can do,” Jaber said.

The government refuses to exchange the captives with Islamist prisoners, a key demand by the militants to release the kidnapped.

Jaber highlighted the importance of providing the Army with what it needs as it deploys in Arsal and other areas to confront terrorist groups, pointing to a draft plan to provide the Army with $1.6 billion approved by Parliament’s Finance and Budget committee Monday. It still needs endorsement by Parliament’s General Assembly.

“Now for example we have new posts for the Army all over the mountains and the borders. ... Do you know that the Army does not have the funds even to buy mobile homes or places to house the soldiers?” Jaber said.

“Winter is coming what would they do?”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 23, 2014, on page 3.

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