BEIRUT: Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai said Friday presidential hopefuls from the country’s major political coalitions should garner the support of their rivals to achieve a parliamentary majority, denying he favored a consensus candidate.
“Each candidate from the two factions [March 8 or March 14] should understand the threat they face. Therefore, candidates should know how to convince the other coalition of their candidacy,” Rai told reporters after his returning from Geneva.
“They should build bridges and try to garner the support of their rivals,” he added.
The head of the Maronite Church also denied remarks carried by a local newspaper that he had ruled out both Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun for the presidency.
In his comments to Al-Joumhouria, Rai reportedly said the president should be a consensus figure.
“I cannot possibly exclude one candidate or another,” Rai said, in response to a question about his comments.
“During the conversation with [the journalist], we said there were candidates from different factions and if [lawmakers] did not reach an agreement on a March 8 or March 14 figure, then they would look for a consensus candidate,” he said.
“I do not have the authority to exclude anyone. As the Maronite Church, we are not involved in naming, excluding candidates or even in the preparations because there are parliamentary blocs who should hold consultations and convene in Parliament until they agree on a presidential hopeful."
Although the two-month constitutional deadline to elect a new head of state began in March, Geagea is the only figure who has so far publicly announced his candidacy for the highest Christian post in Lebanon.
President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term ends on May 25.
Rai also commended Speaker Nabih Berri for saying he would convene the first round of parliamentary sessions to elect a new president by next week.
“Anyone - whether from the March 8, March 14 or a centrist figure - who receives the majority of votes in Parliament is our president and we will back them,” Rai said.
He also reiterated that Bkirki would only support amending the Constitution to elect Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh or Army Chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi if lawmakers agreed on their nomination.
According to the Constitution, judges and grade one public sector employees seeking nomination should quit their posts two years prior to the election.