Berri: The Battle for the Lebanese Presidency Is On

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Berri maintains that he is laying the foundations for a new phase of Lebanese politics that would ease some of the internal tension. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Nasser Charara

Published Tuesday, September 25, 2012

As fierce debate continue over proposals for a reformed electoral law, Al-Akhbar asks Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri what he predicts for Lebanon’s future.

“The 2014 presidential election battle began very early, and we are currently in the heat of it,” parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri tells Al-Akhbar.

“The fight over the currently proposed parliamentary electoral laws has more to do with the prospects of electing the next president than with the calculations of parliamentary bloc sizes that will result from next summer’s vote,” he says.

Berri believes this is an indicator of “the kinds of ballot papers that the 2013 members of parliament will use to decide on ‘the president-elect’.”

“The current dispute over the electoral law is linked to the battle for the presidency,” Berri explains. “This brings us to the conclusion that tensions over the law between Lebanese parties and external forces will exist for a while.”

Berri says he does not believe that a consensus on the law will be reached.

“It goes beyond this to the battle for the presidency, where the internal and external are mixed, especially at a time of a regional and international conflict in and over Syria and its impact on Lebanon,” he says.

Berri declines to give his opinion on any of the proposed electoral laws, but he does offer a suggestion.

“It is too early for me to say my piece, although my position is known. First, there should be no return to the law of 1960,” he says. “I propose what I call the law of ‘the triangle of mercy and salvation’ for Lebanon: proportionality, a law that would produce a parliament representative of the whole nation, not a parliament of sects and confessions.”

He laments what he sees as political parties paying lip service to the Taif agreement while working to undermine it.

“Everyone talks about the 1990 Taif agreement and praises their own commitment to it, but when it comes to applying electoral law, they take a position similar to that of the proverb: our hearts are with the Taif but our swords are raised against it,” he complains.

Berri maintains that he is laying the foundations for a new phase of Lebanese politics that would ease some of the internal tension.

He mentions some recent positive developments, but adds that “it seems someone did not like it and attempted to block its path, by attacking [head of the Change and Reform bloc MP Michel] Aoun’s motorcade, which was a dangerous development.”

Berri pointed to the Pope’s visit to Lebanon and “the accompanying show of Lebanese unity,” as an encouraging sign, in addition to the national dialogue roundtable in Baabda, “which was calm, politically, compared to previous roundtable sessions.”

Berri sought to reaffirm this good will in the speech he gave in Nabatiyeh on the anniversary of the disappearance of Amal movement founder Imam Moussa Sadr. He says he wanted it to have a specific message; a call for Islamic unity to enable national unity.

“In this speech, I invoked my saying: we are Shia in identity, Sunnis at heart, and fervently and ultimately Lebanese,” he recalls. “I swore by this at the festival. The participating throngs repeated after me, praying for the prophet Mohammad.”

“Following this statement, I received a call from the Saudi Ambassador Ali al-Assiri. He praised the content of the speech, namely the intentions to prevent sedition, maintain Islamic unity, and safeguard national stability in Lebanon,” he adds. “I also received a call from [former prime minister] Fouad Siniora who also commended my speech.”

Of the crisis in Syria, Berri says that “from now until 2014, the most important question will be that of the Syrian events, their process and developments.”

“I am noticing that the political position of the Syrian regime in the conflict has become better.”

“I believe that Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander Riad al-Asaad’s announcement about moving his command from Turkey to Syria is a way out for Turkey, which wishes to reduce the burden of its involvement in the Syrian situation,” he says.

“In short, Asaad’s announcement that he left Turkey is the main news, not his talk about moving his command to inside Syria,” Berri explains. “The latter part of his announcement is merely cosmetic, to save Turkey from embarrassment, due to its handling of the Syrian crisis.”

“The course of events inside and around Syria proves that the disengagement policy, adopted by Lebanon concerning the Syrian situation, was the best choice,” he adds. “All that remains is for the Lebanese to have some wisdom in order to prevent the sedition that is being planned. There is no doubt that the attempt on General Aoun’s life points to serious indicators.”

Berri expressed concern over the security situation in the Bekaa valley following following the clashes in Dahiyeh and Tripoli.

“Since the beginning of the latest events, I announced some basic tenets. They are a roadmap to stability in the current difficult circumstances: disengagement from the impact of the Syrian situation; ‘No’ to the closure of the airport road; and a fair electoral law that ensures wide representation,” he says.

Security is key to “attracting investments,” Berri goes on to say. “If there is no security, investments will be damaged. This is in nobody’s interest. It also hurts Lebanon’s immunity against Israel.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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