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Presidential vote doomed to fail without consensus

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri speaks during a session at the Parliament in Beirut, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: A Parliament session to elect a new president will not be held this week, as March 8 lawmakers are determined to scuttle the vote in an attempt to push their March 14 rivals into agreement on a compromise candidate, political sources said Sunday.

“There will be no quorum or election of a new president during Wednesday’s Parliament session,” a political source told The Daily Star.

Speaker Nabih Berri has called on Parliament to meet Wednesday to elect a president after no candidate secured the two-thirds vote needed to win during the first round of voting last week. A two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members is required for any election session.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the candidate backed by the March 14 coalition, won 48 votes against 52 blank ballots cast by lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc and March 8 parties, while 16 lawmakers voted for MP Henry Helou from Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc.

March 14 lawmakers said Sunday that Geagea was still the coalition’s only candidate for the country’s top Christian post.

MP Salim Salhab, from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, said the Free Patriotic Movement leader might announce his candidacy for the presidency before Wednesday’s session.

However, he said Aoun’s bid hinged largely on the outcome of ongoing consultations between the FPM and the Future Movement. Aoun was reported to be waiting for a final word from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri with regard to the Future Movement’s support for his candidacy.

General Michel Aoun will not run for the presidency unless the results of contacts led to a consensus on him,” Salhab told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. He said Aoun would not accept becoming “a challenging candidate.”

But Future MP Ghazi Youssef ruled out Hariri’s support for Aoun’s candidacy, saying that the Future Movement backed a single candidate from the March 14 coalition.

“There is no consensus whatsoever between ... Saad Hariri and MP Michel Aoun concerning the presidency,” Youssef told Voice of Lebanon. “We will remain united behind a single candidate representing the March 14.”

Youssef said that if the country fell into a presidential vacuum, rival political factions should agree on “a consensus candidate.” He stressed that Aoun could not be such a figure.

Sources close to the FPM said that Aoun and members of his bloc along with their March 8 allies – except for Berri’s parliamentary bloc – would not attend Wednesday’s session if there was no agreement beforehand on a compromise candidate. Deputy Speaker Farid Makari meanwhile said the March 14 coalition upheld its support for Geagea’s candidacy.

“We will fight Geagea’s battle until the end,” Makari said in an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper As-Siyasseh. “We want to bring to the presidency someone who carries the March 14 ideas and goals.”

MP Yassin Jaber said lawmakers from Berri’s Liberation and Development bloc were committed to attending all parliamentary sessions to elect a new president and ensure a two-thirds quorum.

“Speaker Berri is playing an important role in ... seeking to reconcile viewpoints between parliamentary blocs with a view to facilitating an agreement on a national figure who can be elected with a consensus,” Jaber told a rally in the southern town of Nabatieh.

Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, who flew to the Saudi city of Jeddah Sunday for talks with Saudi officials on the presidential election, said members of Jumblatt’s bloc would attend all parliamentary sessions to elect a president.

“Our candidate is MP Henry Helou,” he said.

Abu Faour’s Saudi visit comes as former Minister Jean Obeid, who has emerged as a possible consensus candidate, is also in the kingdom for talks with Saudi officials on the presidential election. Obeid has held talks with Hariri in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Hezbollah officials, meanwhile, stepped up their campaign against Geagea’s candidacy, saying that the party would not accept a president who was hostile to the resistance.

“Everyone must understand that there is no place for a president who carries with him an anti-resistance project,” MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, told a rally in south Lebanon.

He called for the presidential election to be held on time, saying: “We do not want a vacuum in the presidency.”

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 unveiled earlier this month a broad political platform stressing the state’s monopoly over the use of arms, a move intended to deprive Hezbollah of its arsenal.

Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said the president should support the resistance.

“The next president must be a friend of the resistance, reflecting the consensual aspirations of the Lebanese and be committed to the current government’s policy statement,” Fayyad said in south Lebanon.

“Those who opposed the policy statement have no place in the presidency seat,” he said, referring to Geagea, who refused to join Hezbollah in Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s coalition government.

Jumblatt called on Hariri to return to Lebanon and head a new Cabinet after the presidential election.

“Hariri should return to Lebanon today and [not] tomorrow because there is no longer any justification for his absence,” Jumblatt said in remarks published by As-Safir newspaper. “I support [Hariri] returning and heading a comprehensive government [after a new president is elected].”

Separately, Geagea held “lengthy talks” with U.S. Ambassador David Hale on the presidential election, the LF media office said. The two discussed the political situation in the Middle East and stressed the need for the presidential election to be held within the constitutional period.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 28, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

A Parliament session to elect a new president will not be held this week, as March 8 lawmakers are determined to scuttle the vote in an attempt to push their March 14 rivals into agreement on a compromise candidate, political sources said Sunday.

Speaker Nabih Berri has called on Parliament to meet Wednesday to elect a president after no candidate secured the two-thirds vote needed to win during the first round of voting last week.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the candidate backed by the March 14 coalition, won 48 votes against 52 blank ballots cast by lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun's bloc and March 8 parties, while 16 lawmakers voted for MP Henry Helou from Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt's bloc.

March 14 lawmakers said Sunday that Geagea was still the coalition's only candidate for the country's top Christian post.

"General Michel Aoun will not run for the presidency unless the results of contacts led to a consensus on him," Salhab told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. He said Aoun would not accept becoming "a challenging candidate".

Youssef said that if the country fell into a presidential vacuum, rival political factions should agree on "a consensus candidate".


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