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SATURDAY, 19 APR 2014
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Maronite Church leading efforts to avoid presidential vacuum
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai. (The Daily Star)
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai. (The Daily Star)
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As the Lebanese presidential elections draw near, talks have intensified in public and secret meetings to prevent a vacuum. Top Lebanese official sources said this internal movement benefited the country’s national interests and reduced the divide between the country’s rival factions, but fell short of setting the internal agenda of the country, which is bound to regional and international developments.

The sources said that any reconciliation efforts were unlikely to bear fruit until some clarity was achieved on the regional scene, particularly with respect to the Syrian crisis.

Amid fears of a growing vacuum in all the official institutions all the way up to the presidency, Bkirki – the seat of Lebanon’s Maronite Church – is playing a central role in launching a national initiative to create an internal “security umbrella” in Lebanon in the face of external dangers.

A ministerial source close to Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai revealed that Bkirki was leading a movement on the internal and Christian scene to prevent a vacuum in the presidency and seeking the formation of a Cabinet as soon as possible to lay the ground for the election of the president. In the event that the initiative fails, the Cabinet that will be formed will assume the responsibilities of the presidency.

Bkirki, the source said, is preparing a national initiative aimed at achieving reconciliation among Christian factions based on a statement of principles supported by all sides. These principles are based on calming down the political and media scene, agreeing on a fair elections law, creating a transitional Cabinet before the presidential election is due, naming the new president and promoting him among states with influence in Lebanon and not vice versa, as the Lebanese would reject any choice imposed on them.

Sources said the patriarch pressed on his visitors the idea that the Christians must assume their national and historic roles in Lebanon and the region, particularly amid the difficult circumstances that neighboring states were experiencing, which impacted the internal Lebanese scene, manifested in the form of a struggle within the Muslim community.

Christian leaders should play the role of “firemen,” Rai believes, and they can as long as the will is there to do so.

Rai’s meetings with political leaders, the latest of which was with the deputy head of the Lebanese Forces’ executive body, MP George Adwan, focused on reaching an agreement on the primary condition stressing “in principle that the presidential elections happen on time, and MPs ensure that the session [at which the president is elected] achieves quorum.”

This push is backed externally, as it appears that the rapprochement between Washington and Tehran as a result of the nuclear agreement is beginning to affect the internal scene. Western states are focusing on the need to maintain security and stability in Lebanon in order to set the stage for the constitutional requirements to be met, including forming a Cabinet and the presidential elections, in order then to deal with the issue of Syrian refugees, which is worrying local and international officials because of the potential to alter the demographic and sectarian balance.

A diplomatic source said a senior European official stressed the importance of the presidency in a meeting with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati recently and that his country would work on reinjecting dynamism into the Lebanese political scene.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 09, 2013, on page 3.
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