Hariri-Berri-Jumblatt Meeting Highlights Conciliatory Slogans, Paves the Way for Electoral Alliances

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt during their meeting in Beirut on Sunday evening

Beirut- A number of questions surrounded the meeting between Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri and the head of the Democratic Gathering Bloc MP Walid Jumblatt at the latter’s residence in Beirut on Sunday evening. Some even went on to talk about a new political alliance or a “coup” that could leave its repercussions in the upcoming parliamentary elections or could be directed against certain parties, especially President Michel Aoun.

Analyses or expectations that encircled the meeting were quickly rejected by the concerned parties, who stressed that the main objective was to immunize Lebanon on the internal and external levels by emphasizing the need to prioritize national interests in light of latest developments and rapid change in the region.

On the other hand, sources close to the matter pointed out that the issue of Hezbollah was discussed during the meeting, especially with regards to the tightening of US sanctions against the movement.

Sources close to Hariri told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the tripartite meeting focused on three main headlines, including the government’s work and continuity, holding parliamentary elections on time and prioritizing Lebanon’s interests in light of the situation in the region.

MP Michel Moussa, for his part, said that the meeting was the “culmination of efforts that began a while ago, especially since President Berri is a friend of both parties and can play a positive role in this rapprochement.”

He also stressed that the meeting was not directed against any particular party, nor did it represent the foundation of a new alliance.

“It is no more than necessary and important political communication,” he stated.

Member of the Change and Reform Bloc, MP Amal Abu Zeid, ruled out that the tripartite meeting was directed against the president or any other party.

In a political talk, he said that the meeting aimed at “consolidating stability in the face of conflicts taking place in the region, especially as the situation in Lebanon is fragile, and the volcano is close to our borders.”

Lebanon’s Cabinet Approves Allocations for Electoral Supervisory Authority

Beirut- The Lebanese government approved on Friday allocations for the supervisory authority for the parliamentary elections that are set to take place in spring 2018.

The decision was taken following a session chaired by Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail. The session had a 63-item agenda.

At the end of the meeting, Minister of Information Melhem Riachi read the following statement: “The Council of Ministers held its ordinary meeting at the Grand Serail chaired by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and approved its agenda. It will hold its next meeting at the Presidential Palace to discuss current issues.”

Asked whether the cabinet approved the item regarding the electoral supervisory authority, Riachi said: “This item was approved, and all pending issues will be discussed during the next meeting.”

Before entering the cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouk told reporters: “I want to emphasize that elections will take place on time (in May 2018). What we are discussing is the mechanism (to implement the new vote law) and not the date of the elections. Any discussion among the political parties is on the implementation of this miracle law. Also, the biometric card is being discussed with the political parties.”

Following the cabinet session, Hariri met with Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury and Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil to discuss a parliamentary session, slated for Monday, when lawmakers are set to deliberate on draft laws over tax amendments previously approved by the cabinet and a settlement to past years worth of extra-budgetary spending.

On the eve of the session, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers and other unions threatened to resort to a general strike and a protest after signs that the government would halt a public sector wage increase if revenues from taxes are not secured.

‘Civilian Council’ to Administer Deir Ezzor, 70% Voted in Federal System of Northern Syria

Qameshli, Deir Ezzor- The Syrian Democratic Forces said on Sunday it established a “civilian council” to administer the oil rich province of Deir Ezzor in east Syria where regime forces are racing to control the ISIS-captured area.

The SDF appointed 100 figures from the leading tribal sheikhs to meet and elect a council to run the province.

In its final communiqué, the council said on Sunday that its priority was the return of tens of thousands of displaced residents of the province who fled during the conflict and restoring basic utilities.

The council also urged the US-led coalition to provide aid to the war-torn province.

“We want to bolster ties among the people of the province,” the statement of the Deir Ezzor civil council said.

Last week, the executive committee of the Kurdish-controlled Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria encouraged Syrians to participate in the elections of bodies running local communities scheduled for Sept. 22.

Meanwhile, a Russian lieutenant-general was killed in Deir Ezzor on Sunday after ISIS shelled his convoy.

In a statement carried by a Russian news agency, the Defense Ministry said that Lieutenant-General Valeryi Asapov died at a command station manned by Syrian troops, assisting commanders in the liberation of the city.

“As a result of a sudden mortar shelling by ISIS militants, Lieutenant-General Valery Asapov was fatally wounded by an exploding shell,” the ministry said.

In a related development, the executive committee of the Kurdish-controlled Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria said on Sunday that in Friday’s election, around 70 percent of eligible voters picked 7,464 leaders for some 3,732 “communes” spread across three regions of the north, from Afrin in northern Aleppo to eastern Aleppo and the two cities of Hasaka and Qameshli in northeastern Syria.

The elections will be held on three stages, that begun last Friday as part of Syrian Kurdish groups’ plan to set up a federal system of government in the north of Syria. The process will be followed in November by the elections of local councils to end up in January 2018 with the election of an assembly that will act as a parliament.

Lebanon: Political Disputes Might Bring Parliamentary Elections Date Closer

Beirut- Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary elections currently constitute the biggest challenge for political forces whose majority fear the outcome of the vote in light of a new law that forecasts uncertain victories.

Amid those fears, worries re-emerged lately concerning the possibility of once again postponing the elections, scheduled for next May, amid calls from Speaker Nabih Berri to hold elections at the end of this year before the scheduled date.

Lebanon has not held parliamentary elections since 2009. Last June, Parliament ratified a new electoral draft law based on proportional representation, with Lebanon divided into 15 electoral districts.

The law also stipulated the adoption of biometric identity cards to cast ballots during the next elections instead of the identity card.

However, this week, Berri’s parliamentary Development and Liberation Bloc submitted an urgent draft law to end Parliament’s term this year and to hold early elections before the end of 2017 amid fears of any emergency extension if Lebanon’s Interior Ministry fails to complete the biometric identity cards before next May.

Sources close to Berri’s bloc told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that the Speaker’s proposal is very serious, calling on Parliament to vote on it soon.

“Parliament should either approve the proposal to hold elections before the end of this year or vote against it and in such case, each party would be responsible for his decision,” the sources said.

According to the same sources, Berri’s proposal constitutes an “early warning” to any party planning to once again postpone the date of the elections.

In response to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil who criticized Berri’s proposal saying it would deal a blow to reforms contained in the voting law, sources close to the Speaker said: “The true rhetoric repeated by some parties is neither related to reforms nor to elections, but is rather a consensual contract that aims to postpone the elections.”

Member of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement parliamentary bloc MP Ammar Houri told Asharq Al-Awsat that the biometric identity card “is essential to guide Lebanon towards modernity because it contains all personal information for the voter.”

As for the Free Patriotic Movement, the party would not object extending the term of Parliament to another few months, allowing the introduction of some vital reforms to the electoral process.

“The Cabinet decided in its last session to link next year’s elections to the adoption of the biometric card, therefore, we have decided to proceed in this direction,” member of President Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc MP Mario Aoun told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Federal Elections in Northern Syria Planned Under US Supervision amid Turkish Massing at Borders

London- The first concrete steps to establish the northern Syrian federation will begin with minor elections starting Friday, followed by the establishment of a parliament and an executive body (government) early next year to manage three districts and six provinces.

The elections are being held in areas with concentrated American and Russian military.

US forces are based east of the Euphrates River to support the Syrian Democratic Forces and fight ISIS, while a Russian military center is nestled west of the river to support the Kurdish-led People Protection Units and separate them from Turkish-backed Syrian factions north of Aleppo.

Expected elections coincide with the Turkish crowds massing on southern borders and ongoing threats of resorting to force to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish region in northern Syria. Other crowds packed up against borders with Iraq in hopes of pressuring the Kurdistan region to postpone independence referendum scheduled for next Monday.

The Turkish National Security Council will convene on Friday under the chairmanship of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss concrete measures, including support for a military operation in Idlib to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish passage from Aleppo’s countryside to Latakia and stretching towards the Mediterranean.

In the “Northern Federal System” the elections are set for Sep 22.

According to estimates put forth by the Executive Committee of the North Syrian Federation chief Fawza al-Yousef, about three million Syrians live in the three provinces—some 1.5 million are Kurds.

Thousands of men and women have gone to the polls in the last few days to vote in the first elections in areas controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Yousef said whether the polls being held for a town, village or neighborhood posts will be held by both males and females.

The city of Raqqa, which the SDF liberated some 90 percent of from ISIS hold, will not be part of the Northern Federation.

As for elections held for local administrations in Raqqa liberated areas, they are scheduled to take place on November 3.

Then, on January 19, a final phase will elect legislative councils as well as a single joint legislative assembly.

Berri Proposes Holding Early Elections for Fears of Parliament Term Extension

Lebanon

Beirut– Lebanon’s parliamentary Development and Liberation Bloc, which is headed by Speaker Nabih Berri, submitted on Monday an urgent draft law to end Parliament’s term this year and to hold early elections before the end of 2017.

In a news conference, Berri said that holding elections before the scheduled date in May would prevent another extension of the legislature’s mandate.

The draft-law, if adopted, would shorten Parliament’s term from the original end date of May 21, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2017.

Berri justified his proposal based on fears of any emergency extension due to the adoption of the biometric card (also known as the magnetic card, an electronic card containing personal information for the voter), which is very difficult to complete before the elections in May.

The head of the Phalanges Party, MP Sami Gemayel, warned against extending parliament’s term “under different excuses”.

Addressing reporters during a press conference on Tuesday, Gemayel said: “We began to hear about the postponement of the elections under various excuses,” describing the biometric card as “scandal added to the scandals of the ruling power.”

Gemayel underlined the need to hold by-elections to fill the vacant seats in Keserouan and Tripoli and to adhere to the scheduled dates of parliamentary elections by abandoning the idea of the magnetic card and allowing the voter to use any card showing his identity.

In remarks to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, senior researcher at Information International, Mohammed Shamseddine, ruled out the possibility of delaying the elections, noting that actions taken by the government, especially those related to the supervision of elections and the magnetic card, were mere political deals.

“It was possible to rely on the current law for the adoption of the identity card or the passport and give time to complete the biometric cards,” he added.

Lebanese Forces Leader Samir Geagea, for his part, underlined the importance of the upcoming parliamentary elections, calling on citizens to assume their responsibilities and to vote for people capable of effecting truthful change.

“They [citizens] must realize that the key is in their hands,” Geagea said on Monday.

Kenya’s Opposition Leader Decides to Take Election Dispute to Supreme Court

Kenya’s Opposition leader Raila Odinga said Wednesday he would take his claims that presidential election was rigged to the Supreme Court, after previously refusing to do so, and vowed to protest peacefully.

Odinga has charged that last Tuesday’s election was rigged in favor of incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta through the hacking and manipulation of the electronic vote counting system.

According to AFP, he also called for peaceful forms of protest, recalling that the rights to demonstrate, strike and carry out acts of civil disobedience were enshrined in the constitution.

“We have now decided to move to the Supreme Court and lay before the world the making of a computer-generated leadership,” he told journalists.

“We will preach peace… we will uphold our rights to assemble and protest. We shall hold vigils, moments of silence, beat drums and do everything else to peacefully draw attention to the gross electoral injustices … and demand redress,” he said.

“Kenyans have no need to use violence to achieve justice.”

Jordanians Hit Polls in Governorate Councils ‘Decentralization’ Elections

Amman- Over four million Jordanian nationals on Tuesday head to polling stations to elect their mayors and members of municipal and governorate councils.  

Some 1,239 candidates are competing for governorate councils “decentralization” seats that total 380. These include 335 elected seats including 32 for women’s quota while 45 will be appointed. A total of 1,123 men and 116 women registered to run for governorate council membership across the Kingdom, said the state-run news agency, Petra.

For Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) council’s membership, some 145 candidates will be competing in the elections, 9 percent of whom are women and 91 are men.

Jordan is divided into 100 municipalities in addition to the Greater Amman Municipality. The municipalities are of two types: 18 municipalities that have no local councils with 1,188 seats, including 333 for women’s quota.

The number of candidates running for municipal and local councils stands at 4,700 including 1,061 women and 3,639 men. The number of candidates running for mayorship stood at 538, 5 seats of which are allocated for women.

Voting for only the governorate council will be in both Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority (PDTRA) and the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA).

Candidates in 22 local councils have won seats by acclamation across the country. In addition, 68 women have won local council seats uncontested, as they were the sole candidates in their constituencies for local councils that include a seat for women as part of a quota system. Two local councils did not see female contenders, where in this case, municipality minister assigns women with the required qualifications to these seats.

The number of polling rooms stands at 4,062 in 1,440 polling centers, including 18 gyms assigned for voting. Each room is equipped with a surveillance camera and a computer with two screens -one for the staff and the other for observers.

Around 33,578 people will be involved in running the polls, including 573 election committees, 2,657 volunteers supported by 30,000 security personnel to help the voting process go smoothly. A total of 6,200 observes from 16 local and international bodies will monitor the elections that will also be covered by 1,550 journalists and media personnel from 80 media bodies.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has printed around 10 million ballot papers of some 650 different forms at specialized printing houses to ensure the papers have security marks. Names and pictures of candidates of governorate councils are shown in green ballot papers to be put in green ballot boxes.

Blue papers are allocated for mayors, whereby names and pictures of candidates are present and voters only have to select one candidate, while ballot papers for electing municipal and local council candidates do not contain names or pictures, but only places to the members.

Kenyan Opposition Demands Access to Election Service to Accept Results

Kenya’s opposition coalition has called on the election commission to give it, other candidates and observers access to its computer servers, saying it would accept the results of Tuesday’s election based on the figures recorded there.

“If they can open those servers, and we all look at it, we are prepared to accept the results of what is contained in those servers,” James Orengo, chief election agent for the NASA opposition coalition, told reporters.

Opposition candidate Raila Odinga has rejected provisional results announced so far, which put him well behind President Uhuru Kenyatta with nearly all the votes tallied.

More so, the opposition coalition said on Friday it will not go to court after rejecting the imminent announcement of results from a disputed presidential vote, raising fears that party leaders may call for street protests.

“Nobody should think that this is the end of the matter,” said James Orengo, the chief election agent for the opposition alliance. “Going to court is not an alternative.”

Kenya Slips into Violence amid Post-Elections Riots

Nairobi- Kenya slipped a little deeper into violence on Wednesday after the former prime minister Raila Odinga rebuffed the final results of the recent presidential elections.

Turnout showed that renewed outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta won for another term. Odinga made allegations of ‘fraud’ tampering with the vote.

The opposition leader said hackers broke into Kenya’s election commission computer systems and database overnight, leading to “massive and extensive” vote fraud that nullified the published victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Speaking at a news conference, Odinga urged his supporters to remain calm, but added: “I don’t control the people”.

His deputy Kalonzo Muyoka repeated the call for calm but said the opposition might call for unspecified “action” at a later date.

Angry protests erupted in opposition strongholds in the capital Nairobi and the western city of Kisumu as the counting of votes from Tuesday’s election continued, but the election commission said the election had been free and fair.

Police shot dead at least three people and protesters killed a fourth, witnesses said. Although the violence remained largely contained, Kenyans were nervously hoping to avoid a repetition of the ethnic killings that followed a disputed 2007 presidential poll, when some 1,200 people died.

As of 1900 GMT, provisional results from the election commission website put Kenyatta in front with 54.3 percent of votes counted to 44.8 percent for Odinga – a margin of 1.4 million ballots with 97 percent of polling stations reported.

Odinga posted 50 pages of computer logs online to support his hacking claims.

However, they were “inconclusive” according to Matt Bernhard, who studies computer security in election systems at the University of Michigan.

At times, stamps appeared out of order and it was hard to evaluate the veracity of screenshots without access to a server, he said.