BEIRUT: With a new session to elect a president Tuesday doomed to fail over a lack of quorum in the 10th aborted attempt in four months, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri came out in support of the extension of Parliament’s mandate should the presidential impasse drag on.
“We support the presidential election. But if the presidential election could not be held, we support the extension of Parliament’s term,” Hariri told reporters Monday at his residence in Downtown Beirut.
Referring to talks he has held with Speaker Nabih Berri and March 14 leaders since his return to Lebanon last week after more than three years abroad for security reasons, Hariri said: “We have opened a dialogue with a number of parties aimed at reaching agreement on a consensus candidate [for the presidency].”
The head of the Future Movement reiterated his rejection of the vacancy in the country’s top Christian post. “We can’t accept the continued presidential void,” he said. “No parliamentary elections will take place before the presidential election.”
Hariri’s remarks came shortly after he met with MP Walid Jumblatt, who was accompanied by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb and MPs from his parliamentary bloc.
Abu Faour returned Monday from Jeddah following a two-day visit during which he held talks with Saudi officials on the situation in Lebanon and the region, the National News Agency reported.
Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, praised Hariri’s return, saying his presence was key to resolving Lebanon’s big problems and underlining the path of national moderate Islam established by his slain father former premier Rafik Hariri and reinforced by his son. Jumblatt said that following the fierce clashes between the Lebanese Army and Islamist militants in the northeastern town of Arsal last week, “it is not permissible that Lebanon remain without the election of a president.”
Hariri announced a $15 million donation for Arsal’s reconstruction during a meeting with a delegation of the town’s residents.
Jumblatt said the entire Arab world was threatened and in chaos. “But I think that so far, with the efforts of Sheikh Saad and other good parties, particularly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, there remains until this moment, and we hope it will continue, an umbrella that protects Lebanon,” he said. “But we as ... the concerned parties must strengthen and fortify this umbrella.”
Asked whether Hariri’s presence would facilitate the presidential vote, Jumblatt said: “I think Sheikh Saad and all of us are keen on electing a president.”
He renewed his support for the PSP’s candidate MP Henry Helou, stressing that the principle of the election is “necessary in order to preserve Lebanon and give hope to the Christians of the Middle East.”
With Tuesday’s Parliament session destined to fail to elect a new president, Berri is expected to call for another session, the 11th since April.
“No progress, even a minor one, has been made in the election of a new president,” Berri was quoted by visitors as saying, reflecting deep political differences between the rival factions over choosing a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended on May 25.
MP Ammar Houri from the Future Movement blamed the March 8 lawmakers’ persistent boycott of Parliament sessions for the presidential stalemate that has paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening to cripple the government’s work.
MPs from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum by boycotting the sessions, demanding a deal beforehand with their March 14 rivals on a consensus candidate.
Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad reiterated the March 8 demand for accord on a conciliatory president as a condition for breaking the deadlock. He said lawmakers from Hezbollah and Aoun’s bloc would boycott Tuesday’s session.
“The political stance on the presidential election has not changed. What is required is an agreement among the political parties on a conciliatory candidate for the presidency,” Fayyad told The Daily Star.
Hezbollah has so far kept mum on Hariri’s return to Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem acknowledged that the party’s relations with the Future Movement were still strained, mainly by sharp differences over the war in Syria. In order for the strained ties to improve, Qassem said the two sides must take positive steps toward each other.
“Describing relations between Hezbollah and the Future Movement as cool is correct. In order for these relations to become warm, steps should be taken by the two sides,” Qassem said in an interview with Al-Manar TV station Monday night. He added that Hezbollah was ready to react positively if the Future Movement showed positive signals. “The road is not closed. But we will not demand anything from anyone,” he said.
Qassem called for “political steps” by the Future Movement to revive state institutions, elect a new president and stop “provocation” against Hezbollah.
“Then, meetings between the two sides could be held to discuss details [of differences] and reach results,” he said.
Qassem added that Hezbollah backed the $1billion Saudi grant to boost the capabilities of the Lebanese Army and security forces in the battle against terrorism. “We support bolstering the Lebanese Army with billions of dollars from any country in the world, except Israel,” he said.