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Electing new head of state key to ending crisis: Aridi.

Summary: All Cabinet parties agree on the need to preserve the national unity government despite a recent war of words between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, a lawmaker from Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt's bloc said.

BEIRUT: All Cabinet parties agree on the need to preserve the national unity government despite a recent war of words between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, a lawmaker from Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt's bloc said. "I don't believe the Cabinet will be affected for the simple reason that all groups have an interest in preserving the government," MP Ghazi Aridi told The Daily Star Tuesday in an interview at his office in Beirut.

"Despite its faltered performance ... all parties agree that it is necessary for the government to stay."

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, from the Future Movement, criticized Hezbollah over the weekend, blaming the party for the growing instability in Lebanon and accusing certain security institutions of favoring the group.

Hezbollah swiftly responded, refuting what Machnouk called a "security balance."

Aridi said harsher remarks had been made by Cabinet parties previously but had been contained.

The Beirut lawmaker explained that extending Parliament's term was a "necessary evil," given the current political and security circumstances in the country.

"If we don't hold parliamentary elections, the country cannot stay without Parliament. How is Parliament preserved? Through its extension," Aridi said.

In an indirect reference to Hezbollah, the MP said there was a group which did want parliamentary or presidential elections to be held because it was busy with more important and strategic issues.

He also pointed to the Future Movement's rejection of taking part in parliamentary polls prior to the election of a president.

Speaker Nabih Berri said he would not accept elections being held amid a boycott by the major representative of Sunnis in the country, as the move would be depicted as a violation of the National Pact.

"There are political reasons for major parties in the country that prevent holding the parliamentary elections," Aridi said.

"There are also reasons presented by the interior minister based on reports from security agencies saying it is difficult to hold the polls in several Lebanese districts due to tension, kidnappings and the blocking of roads," he added. "So how can you have parliamentary elections?

"With all these factors in addition to the fact that Parliament's term is about to expire, we are only left with extension," he said.

Parliament's term is set to expire on Nov. 20.

Aridi also highlighted the importance of electing a president as soon as possible.

"Electing a president is the key to reviving the constitutional and political life of the country," Aridi said. "Once a president is elected, a government is automatically formed and it will hold elections."

He said that Lebanese groups should engage in a compromise to elect a head of state rather than wait for regional developments to push for such a settlement.

Aridi explained that Lebanon was not currently a priority for regional and international powers, given the turmoil in the region.

"Till when will the Lebanese wait? And even if we wait, we are not a priority for anyone," he said. "Things will drag on for a long time and get more complicated, there will be more damage, but at the end will reach a settlement."

"[So] let's engage in this settlement now and spare the country," Aridi said.

The minister lamented that Lebanese political parties were not taking advantage of what he called an international decision to prevent the situation in Lebanon from exploding.

Jumblatt has held a series of meetings recently with rival Maronite leaders in a bid to break the presidential deadlock, but his efforts have so far hit a dead end.

Aridi said there were no positive signs in the offing, adding that the March 8 and March 14 coalitions did not have a logical explanation for the presidential vacuum.

"During talks [with rival leaders], they tell us that this issue cannot be solved locally, as the decision comes from outside. But during the same conversation, they say: 'Why don't we engage in a compromise and reach consensus on a president?'"

Separately, Aridi said a visit that Jumblatt paid to the southern districts of Hasbaya and Arqoub last month were aimed at preserving calm in the area amid dramatic developments nearby on the Syrian side of the border.

He said that the Nusra Front had taken over large swaths of land on the border, adding that Arqoub and Hasbaya were geographically interlinked with Syria.

"This resulted in an influx of refugees [to the Lebanese side] and we had people from rival camps in Lebanon sympathizing with the opposite groups in Syria, which led to repercussions for the situation in Lebanon," Aridi said.

Hasbaya and Arqoub are religiously mixed areas. Its residents are Shiite, Sunni, Christian and the Druze and the districts have a large number of Syrian refugees.

The rising phenomenon of informal security -- gunmen taking law and order into their own hands -- in the western Bekaa region and the neighboring areas of Hasbaya, Rashaya and Arqoub in southeast Lebanon has heightened fears that the region might be bracing itself for a confrontation with Islamist militants similar to what happened in the Bekaa Valley town of Arsal in August.

Aridi said that Jumblatt met political leaders and residents there in a bid to achieve two goals.

"He warned everybody that instinctive reactions against incidents that happen here or there ... as a result of Syria's crisis, will lead to Sunni-Shiite strife and to chaos," he said.

Aridi added that Jumblatt's move was also part of his efforts to break the political deadlock.

Jumblatt urged locals to resort to the state to solve any issue, expressing his opposition to private security measures, Aridi said.

"Residents there responded positively and in an 'excellent manner' ... we are assured to a large extent [of the situation]."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Oct 22, 2014
Words:996
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