MAARAB, Lebanon: Speaker Nabih Berri called on Parliament to convene on April 23 to elect a new president as Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea announced a broad campaign platform stressing the state’s monopoly on the use of force and universal health care for all Lebanese.
The parliamentary session, set for noon Wednesday, will likely fail to elect a president as no candidate appears ready to secure two-thirds of the vote by MPs, and the session may not achieve quorum.
Geagea, meanwhile, took another concrete step in his campaign by proposing a raft of political, economic, security and judicial reforms that he said would augment the state’s power, uphold the Constitution and rule of law, and secure Lebanon.
“Lebanon today has been robbed of its will and decision, and the state is undermined and paralyzed and close to becoming a failed state,” Geagea said in a speech before dozens of party cadres at his fortress-like residence in Maarab, north of Beirut. “National responsibility requires us to stand together to break the chains of fear, anxiety and chaos and hurry to save the republic.”
Berri sent Amal MP Michel Moussa to attend Geagea’s rally, in a sign of cautious openness to his candidacy. Representatives of Future Movement leader and former premier Saad Hariri, former premier Fouad Siniora and Kataeb leader Amine Gemayel also attended, along with March 14 Secretary-General Fares Soueid.
But Geagea faces an uphill battle in gaining the support of his rivals, having been a staunch critic of Hezbollah and its intervention in Syria.
The March 14 leader has also not been endorsed by his own bloc, which has yet to throw its weight behind any candidate for the presidency.
Presidential nominees are also only likely to win the race on the back of a regional consensus agreement involving Saudi Arabia and Iran, political sources told The Daily Star. No signs of an imminent breakthrough on the issue have emerged.
Future MP Ahmad Fatfat, who attended the speech on behalf of Hariri, told The Daily Star that the bloc was in “intense discussions” but had not yet made a decision on which candidate to nominate. Hariri’s chief of staff, Nader Hariri, met early Wednesday with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
But Fatfat said March 14 would only nominate one candidate and would do so before the first Parliament session to elect a president, suggesting the decision could come as early as next week.
MP Strida Geagea told The Daily Star she was confident the alliance would back her husband in the race. “There should be a unified decision in the coming days but the atmosphere is positive toward nomination,” she said.
She said Geagea would meet with senior officials in all political blocs in Lebanon “without exception,” kicking off the tour Wednesday by meeting President Michel Sleiman and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai and delivering a copy of his presidential campaign platform.
Sleiman and Rai will meet during the Easter holidays to discuss the election, likely stressing the need to hold it on time. They are also likely to discuss the presidency in upcoming meetings in the Vatican on the sidelines of a ceremony canonizing Pope John Paul II.
Sleiman’s six-year term ends in May. A two-month consultation period to elect a new president began last month.
Geagea has sought to portray his campaign, which carried the slogan “the strong republic,” as a triumph of state power, rule of law and the “primacy of the Constitution.”
“There will be no leniency in the principle of the state’s monopoly over weapons,” he told attendees, as he began outlining a sweeping set of campaign promises.
Geagea vowed to reform the judiciary by fighting corruption and patronage and appointing a large corps of judges to speed up trials, in addition to improving prison conditions. He said he would work to abolish the death penalty, bringing Lebanon in line with human rights conventions.
He called for reforms in the nation’s security services, criticizing them for failing to apprehend the culprits in attacks targeting members of the March 14 coalition and declaring his support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
The STL is tasked with investigating the Feb. 14, 2005, attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.
Geagea pledged to improve the state’s infrastructure and to promote ecological and religious tourism to help combat rising unemployment and spiraling public debt. He also promised to transparently manage Lebanon’s offshore oil wealth and set up free trade zones including in the Bekaa Valley and the coastal regions.
Geagea also vowed to introduce mandatory universal health care for Lebanese citizens, subsidized by the state for the poor.
Geagea said he would uphold international resolutions, including 1701 which ended the 2006 war, and 1559, which called for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon, a measure aimed at Hezbollah.
He also vowed to resolve the dispute over the Shebaa Farms in south Lebanon by negotiating an agreement with the “legitimate” Syrian government, declaring Lebanon’s sovereignty over the territory.
Hezbollah argues that the Shebaa Farms area must be liberated. Israel maintains that the land belongs to Syria and will only be given up as part of a comprehensive peace agreement with the regime there.
Ministerial sources told The Daily Star foreign diplomats in Lebanon had expressed their optimism that the presidential polls would be held on time and said they were no longer worried over the possibility of a vacuum in the state’s leadership because of the presence of the unity government led by Prime Minister Tammam Salam. – Additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab