BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil agreed during a meeting Tuesday to work on ensuring that presidential elections are held on time and to continue bilateral contacts, Future Movement sources told The Daily Star.
The meeting came on the eve of a Parliament session that is expected to be unable to elect a president Wednesday, with most March 8 lawmakers scheduled to not attend.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said that Bassil – from Future rival the Free Patriotic Movement party – had lunch at Hariri’s residence in Paris.
“They had a general overview of the political situation in Lebanon most important of which is the presidential election,” one source said. “Their points of view converged on the importance of holding the elections on time and avoiding any vacuum.”
The sources said that Bassil, the son-in-law of FPM leader Michel Aoun, and the Future Movement leader agreed to hold wider and continued contacts to ensure presidential polls took place on time.
The meeting also involved a positive review of the dialogue between the parties that has occurred so far this year, especially the government’s work, which shows such cooperation has borne fruit for the country.
Ties between the FPM and the Future Movement have thawed in recent months, with Aoun himself meeting Hariri in Paris in January.
FPM sources told The Daily Star that the meeting was positive in the sense that it kept the door open for both parties to exchange information until regional and international negotiations over Lebanon’s presidential election concludes.
The same sources said the FPM expected a final decision to be made before May 25, the date when President Michel Sleiman’s term expires.
Meanwhile, a senior March 8 source said that most of the coalition’s MPs – who number around 57 – would not attend a Parliament session called by Speaker Nabih Berri Wednesday to elect a president.
“Berri will wait for a while [during tomorrow’s session] before calling for a new session due to the lack of quorum,” the source said. He expected the date for the next vote to be soon.Sources who visited the speaker Tuesday quoted him as saying that there would not be a quorum as long as there was no consensus among rival parties on a presidential candidate.
According to them, Berri said he would wait for 30 minutes for a quorum to be achieved Wednesday and would call for another session if it was not met. “But my bloc will attend the session. We will be the first MPs to attend and the last to leave,” the speaker was reported to say.
The speaker said he was worried about Parliament’s continuous failure to achieve a quorum. “With May 25 nearing, I will not just keep calling for sessions, but I will take further action,” Berri said.
Political sources expect that the speaker will call for near daily sessions starting mid-May in a bid to secure the election of a president.
The speaker said U.S. officials had informed him during recent meetings that the country had no feelings on any candidates but strongly supported holding the election on time: “All Western ambassadors want a ‘made in Lebanon’ president.”
Last week, the speaker chaired the first round of voting in Parliament. None of the candidates emerged victorious. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the March 14-backed candidate, won 48 votes against 52 blank ballots cast by lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc and March 8 parties. Some 16 lawmakers voted for MP Henry Helou from Walid Jumblatt’s bloc.
At least 86 votes were needed to win in the first round, but candidates in the second round only need 65 – an absolute majority. Berri adjourned the second round of last week’s session after most March 8 lawmakers walked out of Parliament, causing a loss of quorum.
“I personally believe a president will not be elected tomorrow,” Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said during a news conference at his ministry.
A political aide to Berri, Khalil said the presence of Tammam Salam’s national unity government would partially compensate for presidential vacuum in case it occurred. Regardless, he said he hoped it would not happen.
Hariri’s Future parliamentary bloc has said that its MPs will attend Wednesday and have called on its lawmakers to vote for Geagea again.
“Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea is the candidate unanimously backed by the March 14 coalition,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting under former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. “The electoral platform he announced and explained represents the aspirations of the majority of the Lebanese to a sovereign, free and independent state.”