BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt have launched joint concerted efforts aimed at finding a compromise candidate to break a deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for more than three months, political sources said Monday.
The development comes as Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai is set to leave for the Vatican Wednesday for talks with Pope Francis on the plight of Christians in the Middle East and the presidential election gridlock in Lebanon.
Rai Monday renewed his call on lawmakers to quickly elect a new president, saying Lebanon and the region faced threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
“A president should be elected as soon as possible because a vacuum in the country’s top post is not permissible while Lebanon and the region are going through many and various dangers,” Rai said during a visit to Batroun in the north. He stressed the need “to confront the dangers of ISIS in Lebanon and the region.”
Both Berri and Jumblatt said Sunday they were working together on a political compromise to break the presidential stalemate. But they declined to reveal details of their proposals that would eventually clear the deck for the election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended May 25.
“In light of the split among the top Maronite leaders on the presidency, Berri and Jumblatt are trying to find a conciliation candidate who can be acceptable to all the parties,” a political source told The Daily Star.
Sources close to Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarch, north of Beirut, said that Rai, given the divisions within the Christian community over the country’s top Maronite post, appeared to be in favor of a neutral candidate for the presidency who is neither aligned with the March 14 coalition, nor with the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc.
“Over the past few weeks, Patriarch Rai has met with a large number of visitors who told him that they did not support either [Lebanese Forces leader] Samir Geagea or [MP] Michel Aoun for the presidency, and they prefer a neutral candidate,” a source in Bkirki told The Daily Star.
“Patriarch Rai wants a candidate who does not belong to any of the rival political parties. Someone who can keep equal distance from everyone,” the source said.
“The current stage is not one conducive to finding solutions for the Lebanese crisis. Rather, it is a crisis management phase. Therefore, Lebanon needs a president who fully understands the complexities of the Lebanese crisis and the intricate policies in the region,” the source said.
“What Lebanon needs now is a president who can maintain stability in the country and relations with all regional and international powers concerned with the Lebanese situation,” he added.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces MP Strida Geagea hit back at Jumblatt for saying that he was working with Berri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah to reach a political compromise over the presidential election stalemate.
“Will my friend Walid Jumblatt accept Samir Geagea negotiating with Nabih Berri over the Druze seats in Parliament, for instance? Or will he [Jumblatt] and Geagea negotiate over the premiership without [former premier] Saad Hariri?” MP Geagea said in a statement.
She called on the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party “to stay away from anything that raises ill-timed negative sensitivities and sentiments.”
For its part, Hezbollah urged its rivals in the March 14 coalition to present a political vision to help break the presidential stalemate.
“We advise the March 14 group to come forward with a political vision and tell the people what they want,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem told a ceremony in the eastern city of Baalbek commemorating four Hezbollah fighters killed in the fighting in Syria. “Tell the people what you are doing to address the country’s problem and what are you are positively offering [them],” he said.
He accused the March 14 parties of seeking to extend Parliament’s mandate while they oppose the extension in public. Qassem said Hezbollah was ready for dialogue with the March 14 coalition to resolve the country’s political crisis.
“We are outstretching our hand. We are ready for an intellectual dialogue to discuss principles. We are ready for a serious dialogue, for agreements, for commitments,” he said.
Qassem, however, was downbeat about solutions in Lebanon in the near future. “There are no solutions in Lebanon in the foreseeable future,” he said. “It seems that we will have to wait too long for developments in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, and is not clear how long this period will last.”
Parliament earlier this month failed for the 10th time in four months to elect a new president over a lack of quorum, raising fears of a prolonged vacancy in the presidency seat. The presidential deadlock has boosted the chances of a new extension of Parliament’s mandate, which expires Nov. 20, in a bid supposedly aimed at averting a vacuum in all constitutional institutions.