BEIRUT: MP Michel Aoun’s betting on the Future Movement’s support for his presidency bid is misplaced, a senior Future source said Monday, as doubts increased about Parliament’s ability to elect a new head of state on time.
“The Free Patriotic Movement’s wager on the Future Movement’s support for MP Aoun’s candidacy for the presidency appears to be misplaced,” the source told The Daily Star.
The source denied reports claiming that Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, met in Paris Monday with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in a last-ditch attempt to prod the head of the Future Movement into endorsing the FPM leader’s presidency bid.
Aoun, a longtime presidential aspirant, was reported to be waiting for a final word from Hariri regarding the Future bloc’s support to decide on whether he would run for the presidency.
Contacts have been going on for some time between the FPM and the Future Movement, focusing mainly on the Future support for Aoun’s presidency bid.
Future MP Jean Ogassapian dismissed reports about an alleged deal between Hariri and Aoun over the latter’s candidacy for the presidency.
“There is no deal between General Michel Aoun and [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri over adopting Aoun’s candidacy for the presidency,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. He said there were “indirect contacts” between Hariri and Aoun.
Aoun has said he will only run for the country’s top Christian post as a consensus candidate. Future MP Ghazi Youssef ruled out Hariri’s support for Aoun’s candidacy, saying that the FPM leader could not be a consensus candidate.
The Future Movement and its March 14 allies have backed Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s candidacy for the presidency since the first Parliament session last week.
The Future source cast doubts on the fate of a Parliament session, slated for Wednesday, saying lawmakers would not be able to elect a president for lack of a two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members required for any election session.“We and our March 14 allies will attend Wednesday’s session. But signs indicate that a two-thirds quorum will not be secured,” the source said. He was referring to an expected boycott or walkout by March 8 lawmakers of the session in an attempt to thwart a quorum and subsequently scuttle the vote in the absence of an agreement beforehand on a compromise president.
Reiterating March 14 support for Geagea’s candidacy, the source ruled out the possibility of the presidential election being held on time before May 25 to avoid a vacuum in the presidency. President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term in office expires on May 25.
“In the absence of a local, regional and international consensus over a compromise president, most probably a new president will not be elected within the constitutional deadline,” he said.
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.
Geagea, the March 14-backed candidate, won 48 votes against 52 blank ballots cast by lawmakers from 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.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam reiterated that his 2-month-old government did not seek to fill a presidential void. He also hoped that the next president to be “made in Lebanon, like the government.”
“The positive atmosphere that resulted in an agreement among political parties and led to a government of national interest should also lead to the election of a president,” Salam said in an interview to be published Tuesday in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas. “All efforts should be geared toward holding the presidential election.”
Salam urged Arab tourists to return to Lebanon and experience for themselves the security his Cabinet imposed on the country.
For his part, Geagea warned against obstructing the presidential vote and urged all parties to attend Wednesday’s session to elect a new president.
“The other [March 8] side is determined to obstruct the session. No side has the right to use this right [to boycott a Parliament session] randomly,” Geagea told reporters at his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut.
“Blank ballots are not meant to scuttle the presidential election. But unfortunately it was aimed in the previous session at scuttling the election with a view to boycotting it in the second round [of voting],” he said.
He said that failing to secure a quorum cannot be used as a pretext to scupper the election. He said thwarting a quorum for a session was “undemocratic and unconstitutional.”
“The quorum cannot be a legal impediment to prevent the election; the legal texts stipulate that the quorum aims at organizing the presidential election process and making the best of it,” Geagea said.
The LF leader vowed to continue his candidacy until the end. He urged the March 8 coalition to name its own presidential candidate ahead of Wednesday’s session.
“The March 8 team has to choose its presidential candidate and announce his program so that we can go to the session and the election can be held,” Geagea said.
The Kataeb Party said its lawmakers, who voted for Geagea’s candidacy last week, will attend Wednesday’s Parliament session.
A statement issued after a weekly meeting of the party’s Political Bureau chaired by its leader, former President Amine Gemayel, called on “all parties to go down to Parliament, enter the Parliament hall, secure a quorum and exercise their constitutional duty without exposing the presidency to the threat of vacuum.”