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Berri sees chance for presidential election without foreign interference

File - Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a Parliament session in Beirut, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Prospects are high for the presidential vote to take place without foreign interference, Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying Thursday as Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called for the election of a consensus president.

Berri also implicitly said that a rapprochement between regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran would have a positive impact on the situation in Lebanon, including the presidential election.

“A breakthrough in relations between regional states, namely the states that wield influence in Lebanon, could have a positive impact on the Lebanese situation,” Abdel-Hadi Mahfouz, head of the National Audiovisual Media Council, quoted Berri as saying, in a clear reference to regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Berri cited the recent appointment of a new Saudi ambassador in Tehran as a move that eased tensions between the two countries.

“This signals to the possible openness [between Saudi Arabia and Iran] from which Lebanon in particular will benefit,” Berri said.

“A positive regional atmosphere will be beneficial for Lebanon. This will reflect itself on the presidential election,” he added.

In Berri’s assessment, according to Mahfouz, there is a big possibility to “Lebanize the presidential election,” or holding the election without foreign meddling.

Foreign officials, including U.S. President Barack Obama, have called for the presidential election, scheduled in May, to be held without foreign intervention.

Berri was further quoted as saying that he had told foreign ambassadors based in Beirut not to interfere in the presidential election.

His remarks came a day after the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi said there has been a breakthrough in tense relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia that would have a positive impact on all regional issues.

Meanwhile, Rai called for the election of a consensus president, virtually ruling out both Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun for the presidency.

Asked about the possibility that one of the two rival Maronite leaders might be elected president, Rai said he “does not expect that.”

“The president must be a consensus figure, accepted by the people so that he can bring together warring parties instead of creating a new crisis,” Rai said in remarks published by Al-Joumhouria newspaper Thursday.

However, Rai said Bkirki does not support a certain presidential candidate: “The next president should have strong morals, integrity, history, faith in the Lebanese state and in regional and international ties so that he can revive the role of the institutions and rule the country in difficult times.”

Rai renewed his call on Berri to hold a parliamentary session to elect a new president.

Lebanon entered last month the constitutional deadline for Parliament to elect a new president before President Michel Sleiman’s term in office expires on May 25. So far, Geagea is the only declared candidate for the presidency.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 11, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Prospects are high for the presidential vote to take place without foreign interference, Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying Thursday as Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called for the election of a consensus president.

Berri also implicitly said that a rapprochement between regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran would have a positive impact on the situation in Lebanon, including the presidential election.

Foreign officials, including U.S. President Barack Obama, have called for the presidential election, scheduled in May, to be held without foreign intervention.

Berri was further quoted as saying that he had told foreign ambassadors based in Beirut not to interfere in the presidential election.

Rai called for the election of a consensus president, virtually ruling out both Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun for the presidency.


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