By Rita Boustani
Published April 7th 2005 in The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Less than 24 hours after his ice-breaking visit to leading loyalist member Speaker Nabih Berri, Lebanese opposition leader Walid Jumblatt made a surprise visit to Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami to insist upcoming parliamentary elections be held on time. Jumblatt also said the elections should take place under the aegis of an electoral law last used in 1960 that establishes small electoral voting districts (qadas), a move many believe favors the opposition.
But following the meeting Karami reiterated the loyalist Ain al-Tineh preference for what he called larger electoral districts (mohafazat). Parliament will decide on the draft law once the new government has been formed.
Speaking earlier this week Karami said a new government would be in place by Saturday.
He added the draft electoral law presented to Parliament prior to former premier Rafik Hariri's murder in February, which established qadas but also divided Beirut into three voting districts, a move which was widely seen as unfavorable for Hariri, would be placed before Parliament again once the new government is formed.
Forty-six opposition MPs signed a draft bill Tuesday in line with the 1960 law proposing a new electoral law be based on small districts, rejecting a decision by pro-Syrian Lebanese government loyalists to hold the next elections on the basis of large districts with proportional representation.
The MPs also proposed an amendment to the Constitution's Article 68, which restricts media freedoms, and insisted Beirut remain as one electoral district.
Jumblatt stressed the importance of abiding by the Taif Accord - the agreement that ended the 1975-1990 civil war here - describing it as the "best framework to work with."
He added he was wary of "the small print of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and its consequences." The present Cabinet, which resigned February 28 after massive public demonstrations, had endorsed a new electoral law on January 27 dividing the country into small electoral districts along confessional lines, with a voting system based on the majority vote.
But, Berri said last Friday that a new government would soon draw up an electoral law based on larger districts with changes favoring the pro-Syrian camp.
On Tuesday Jumblatt made a surprise visit to Berri, who is also head of the Ain al-Tineh gathering of government loyalists, and stressed the need to hold elections on time to conform to the Taif Accord, the agreement that ended Lebanon's 15-year civil war.
The opposition member's visit created a wave of reactions among Lebanese officials, as all eyes turned to the upcoming elections and the necessity of preventing further delay.
Pro-Syrian Beirut MP Nasser Qandil said after meeting Karami that Jumblatt's visit to the speaker was a breakthrough in attempts to resolve the government crisis.