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Hezbollah raps Geagea candidacy, calls for compromise

President Michel Sleiman attends Good Friday mass in Kaslik, Friday, April 18, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Hezbollah Friday implicitly rejected Samir Geagea’s candidacy for the presidency, saying the Lebanese Forces leader’s move could delay holding the presidential election on time and cause trouble in the politically divided country.

MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, also said his party would only support a presidential candidate who defended the resistance, a long-running divisive issue among the Lebanese.

“Some candidacies that are not qualified [for the presidency] might obstruct holding the election. The country cannot endure a problem and a clash between two national options,” Raad told a rally in south Lebanon, in a clear reference to Geagea’s bid for president.

“There is no time for [forging] a major political compromise over these two options because an agreement on a president cannot be reached unless there is a consensus over a compromise,” he said.

Raad was apparently referring to the two conflicting options over Hezbollah’s arsenal. While the March 14 coalition wants Hezbollah to disarm and surrender its missiles to the Lebanese Army, the March 8 alliance insists that the party keep its weapons to defend Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.

Geagea, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, has repeatedly called on the party to hand over its arsenal to the Army, saying a powerful state cannot be built while illegitimate arms remain in the hands of any party. Geagea and his March 14 allies have also slammed Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria to support President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Days after announcing he would run for president, Geagea unveiled Wednesday a broad political platform stressing the state’s monopoly over the use of arms, a move intended to deprive Hezbollah of its arsenal.

In an apparent response to Geagea’s platform, Raad said Hezbollah would only support a candidate who defended the resistance.

“We want a candidate who will safeguard and defend the resistance option and is keen on the unity of the Lebanese,” Raad said. “With regard to major national issues, abandoning the resistance option in favor of another option will threaten national sovereignty and put the country on the brink of a new abyss.”

“Therefore, we advise those concerned [with the presidential election] to be wise and refrain from embarking on miscalculated adventures,” he said.

The presidential race has moved into high gear after 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 MPs’ votes, and the session may not achieve quorum.

In addition to Geagea, Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem from the March 14 coalition has also announced his candidacy.

Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel is also expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency in the new few days.

As news of Gemayel’s nomination spread, LF and Kataeb officials were in contact in an attempt to reach consensus over a single March 14 candidate.

Geagea’s wife, MP Strida Geagea, telephoned Gemayel asking to meet at the latter’s residence in Bikfaya.

“The LF and the Kataeb Party are very close to an agreement on approaching the presidential election in such a way to ensure March 14 unity in order to wage the presidential battle under the best conditions,” an LF source said.

An LF delegation will soon visit Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun in Rabieh, north of Beirut, to give him a copy of Geagea’s political platform. LF delegations will also visit March 8 and March 14 leaders for the same purpose.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai spoke by telephone with Geagea to congratulate him on his nomination for president and the declaration of his political platform, a statement from the LF chief’s office said.

Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said he was still undecided on which candidate to support for the presidency.

“I will choose [a candidate] at the last minute after consulting my conscience and my partners,” he told Al-Ousbou Al-Arabi magazine. “I will consult Speaker Nabih Berri first, the Future Movement and other sides.”

Jumblatt, head of a seven-member parliamentary bloc, is seen as the kingmaker in the presidential election as his support for one of the two rival factions can tip the balance in its favor.

Separately, a Future Movement source denied Friday that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri would return to Lebanon to attend next week’s parliamentary session to elect a new president.

“Such allegations are not true,” the source told The Daily Star. “Hariri has no intention of coming back to Lebanon at the moment.”

Earlier Friday, Future MP Samir Jisr told the Voice of Lebanon radio station that Hariri might come to Beirut next week to attend the parliamentary session to elect a president.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2014, on page 1.

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