BEIRUT: Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel will run for president and his candidacy will be announced in the next few days, a Kataeb lawmaker said Thursday, a day after Parliament was called to elect a new head of state, throwing the presidential race into high gear.
Zahle Kataeb MP Elie Marouni also voiced fears about the country descending into a presidential vacuum due to a lack of local, regional and international agreement on Lebanon’s next president.
“The Kataeb Party’s Political Bureau will announce Gemayel’s candidacy to the presidency during a meeting either Saturday or Monday,” Marouni told The Daily Star.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam said there was no reason preventing holding the presidential polls on time.
“There is no reason for this election not to be held on time if it is part of our genuine democratic practice,” Salam told reporters after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki to congratulate him on the Easter holiday.
He said eleventh-hour compromises and meetings between rival political parties might take place to ensure that the presidential election is successfully held on time.
He added that Rai was optimistic about the presidential vote taking place on time.
Salam dispelled fears concerning the presidential election. “We hope that this election will take place, a new president will be elected and the country’s democratic system is bolstered so that we can move forward for the sake of Lebanon and the Lebanese,” he said.
Lebanon last month entered the two-month constitutional deadline for Parliament to meet to elect a new head of state to replace President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term expires on May 25.
Speaker Nabih Berri Wednesday called on Parliament to convene on April 23 to elect a new president. The parliamentary session 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.
In addition to Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who has announced he will run for president, Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem from the March 14 coalition has also announced his candidacy.
Although the March 14 coalition has not yet officially taken a stance on Geagea’s candidacy, his nomination is expected to present the coalition with a tough choice.
Marouni said Gemayel’s political experience, history and ability to communicate with all the parties make him “a strong president capable of running the country’s affairs.”
Marouni said Gemayel, a key leader in the March 14 coalition who served as president of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988, is able to gain support from the rival Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance because he maintains contacts with all the parties.
Gemayel’s six-year mandate as president was marred by political differences and internal strife, including clashes between the Lebanese Army and militias of Syrian-backed Muslim parties in Beirut and the mountains.
Gemayel’s tenure also saw the deployment of U.S.-led multinational troops in Beirut to oversee the Palestine Liberation Organization’s pullout from Lebanon.
These troops returned to Lebanon after hundreds of Palestinian refugees were massacred by Israeli-allied Lebanese militiamen in the Sabra and Shatila camps following the assassination of his brother President-elect Bachir Gemayel.
Marouni warned of a presidential vacuum unless a regional and international agreement is reached on Lebanon’s next president.
Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi from the Kataeb Party said Gemayel’s candidacy does not contradict that of Geagea.
“This is not a problem,” he told The Daily Star. “We will have diversity among candidates and we might later reach some exchange of votes or a certain agreement to have a shared candidate. This is all part of the democratic process,” he added.Although Geagea says he is confident his allies in the March 14 coalition will endorse his candidacy, the group has not yet thrown its weight behind any name.
Azzi explained that the March 14 coalition is in need of a moderate candidate that can win some votes from the rival March 8 rival camp, and that Gemayel possesses these qualities.
Geagea announced Wednesday a broad political platform stressing the state’s monopoly over the use of arms, a move intended to deprive Hezbollah of its arsenal.
Sleiman congratulated Geagea on his nomination for president, the LF said in a statement Thursday. It added that Sleiman, who spoke with Geagea by telephone Wednesday evening, also praised the LF leader for his political platform that stressed restoring the role and authority of the state as his main goal.
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale met Geagea in Maarab with whom he discussed the latest political developments in Lebanon and the region, the National News Agency reported.