Lebanon faces political stalemate as dialogue stalls

BEIRUT: The first of three consecutive National Dialogue rounds kicked off Tuesday as Speaker Nabih Berri urged rival parties to make concessions to pave the way for a comprehensive political settlement.

Talks, however, failed to make headway over the election of a president and the adoption of a new parliamentary electoral system.

“Due to the gravity of domestic and foreign circumstances, we must reach a Lebanese agreement similar to the Doha Accord starting with the election of a president, which is the main issue on our agenda, in addition to a basket of issues including administrative decentralization,” a source quoted Berri as saying at the opening of the session.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since the end of former President Michel Sleiman’s term in 2014.

Sleiman was elected president as part of the Doha Accord in 2008. The Qatari-brokered agreement ended an 18-month political feud that had exploded in May 2008 into deadly sectarian fighting between Shiite Hezbollah gunmen and Sunni pro-Future Movement supporters, threatening to plunge Lebanon into all-out chaos.

The deal reached in Doha led to the formation of a national unity cabinet and the adoption of the current electoral law–which originally dates back to 1960–in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

The first round of talks failed to bridge the gap between rival factions over a new electoral law.

About an hour and a half into the session, Progressive Socialist Party Leader MP Walid Jumblatt left Berri’s residence, noting that obstacles remain.

Speaking to reporters as he left Berri’s residence, Hezbollah’s Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc MP Ali Fayyad also downplayed the possibility of a political breakthrough.

“Political factions from across the aisle were steadfast in their stance regarding the presidential void, but we did discuss the adoption of a new parliamentary electoral law which would lay the ground for the election of a new head of state,” Fayyad said.

Fayyad’s ally, Free Patriotic Movement President Gebran Bassil stressed that his party will only agree to the adoption of an electoral law that guarantees fair representation for all Lebanese factions.