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Rivals sign up but Parliament extension looms
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As the Interior Ministry witnessed Friday a deluge of candidates to register for the elections, the extension of Parliament’s mandate gained momentum amid the deteriorating security situation in Tripoli.

Ministry sources said 241 candidates filed applications to run, bringing to 403 the number of those who have registered for the June polls on the basis of the controversial 1960 vote law.

However, the chances of extending Parliament’s mandate gained a boost following talks between Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, who voiced strong support for such a measure, citing the explosive situation in Tripoli.

Berri is also expected to meet former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future Movement parliamentary bloc, over the weekend to agree on a formula for Parliament’s extension. Earlier this week, Berri sent his political aide, caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, to President Michel Sleiman and Siniora for this purpose.

Referring to clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tripoli which have killed at least 24 people and wounded 200 this week, Jumblatt told reporters after meeting Berri: “I don’t see a justification in this gloomy atmosphere to enter into the election charade ... I support an extension of Parliament’s mandate because elections can't be held in this tense situation.”

Among the 403 candidates are Berri, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, according to ministry sources.

The Future bloc filed applications for 27 candidates including Hariri, Aoun’s bloc registered 18 candidates, while Hezbollah submitted applications for its current 14 MPs without any change. The Lebanese Forces filed applications for 26 candidates, while the Kataeb Party has yet to nominate its candidates.

But the rush to register ahead of Monday’s deadline comes amid rising doubts that the polls can be held on time, and stepped-up efforts by Berri and others to extend Parliament’s four-year mandate, which expires on June 20.

The caretaker Cabinet is due to meet at Baabda Palace Monday to discuss the formation of an election supervisory committee and endorse funding for the polls, sources told The Daily Star.

March 8 and March 14 lawmakers have failed in several rounds of talks to agree on a new electoral law to replace the 1960 system, while the two sides are also at odds over the duration of the extension of Parliament’s term.

While Berri’s Amal Movement, Hezbollah and Jumblatt support a two-year extension, the Future Movement and its March 14 allies demand an extension of not more than six months to give time to approve a new vote law.

Sleiman, who opposes an extension of Parliament’s term, underlined the need for holding the polls.

“Let’s uphold our democracy and not work to evade holding the polls. Elections are a democratic manifestation for which we have been distinguished for 70 years,” Sleiman said during a visit to the Defense Ministry in Yarzeh.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said he opposed the extension of Parliament’s mandate and called for the elections to be held on time under any law.

“We totally reject the extension of Parliament’s mandate, to preserve democracy and the rotation of power in Lebanon,” Rai said at Beirut airport after returning from a tour of the Vatican, France and South America. “Elections should be held under any existing law or a law approved in [Parliament].”


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