Lebanon News

Committee members have sincere intentions for policy statement

President Michel Sleiman, center, receives Speaker Nabih Berri, left, and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam at Baabda Palace, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

A member of the ministerial committee tasked with drafting the Cabinet’s policy statement said Sunday that all committee members had the sincere intention of surmounting divisions over the Baabda Declaration and the “Army, people and resistance” clause.

The source said that committee members were working to find a formula that would satisfy Hezbollah, President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

The source, requesting to remain anonymous, said differences would be resolved over the weekend through contacts between parties in the Cabinet, spearheaded by Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt.

Meanwhile, parliamentary sources said that the issue of holding the presidential election, which took the spotlight after the Cabinet deadlock was resolved, was more complicated than the Cabinet formation. The period to elect a new president begins on March 25, two months before the expiry of Sleiman’s term.

The sources said that the current political atmosphere indicates that the contest to select presidential candidates had already begun, adding that Friday’s meeting in Rome between former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai had addressed this issue.

The parliamentary sources added that contacts between politicians and diplomats inside and outside Lebanon mostly revolved around this matter as well.

The sources said that Salam’s government would combat terrorism in the country and address the pressing needs of the Lebanese.

However, the sources predicted that political bickering would continue, while denying that an agreement had been reached among rival political factions over a presidential candidate.

Christian MPs told The Daily Star that after his return from the Vatican, Rai would call on the four Maronite leaders – Kataeb Party head Amine Gemayel, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and head of the Marada Movement Suleiman Franjieh – to meet in Bkirki to discuss the National Charter which was announced by the Maronite Church earlier this month.

However, the sources said that the main reason for the invitation would be to address presidential polls.

Sources from the Maronite Patriarchate said it was necessary that Maronite leaders meet Rai now in order to discuss all issues pertaining to the sect, particularly the presidential election and the possibility of agreeing on a candidate to represent Maronites.

The Lebanese Constitution, stipulates that the country’s president should be a Maronite.

The Christian MPs said that should all four Maronite leaders attend the meeting, it would mark an important development in ties between them, even if they do not come to an agreement over presidential candidates.

March 8 parliamentary sources hoped that Bkirki’s efforts to secure consensus on one Maronite candidate for the presidency would not mirror its failed attempt last year to achieve consensus over an electoral law to provide fair representation for Christians.

The sources said it was unlikely that the Maronite leaders would agree on one presidential candidate, saying that at most, an agreement could be reached that all Christian lawmakers would show up in Parliament to achieve quorum in the session called for by Speaker Nabih Berri in order to elect a new president.

The sources said that in case Aoun, Franjieh, Gemayel or Geagea ran for the presidency and none of them were able to secure two-thirds of the vote in the first round, then a simple majority would be required in the second round for a hopeful to win.

The sources said that in such a case, MPs loyal to Jumblatt would tip the balance, since the votes of the March 8 and March 14 coalitions were almost equal.

Sources close to the Maronite Order said presidential polls in Lebanon had always required international and regional agreements involving Washington, Russia, Iran and Europe.

But the sources said that these countries could not impose a president in Lebanon, as they have in the past, if Christian MPs insisted on having a Christian leader, whether from the March 8 or March 14 coalitions, as the country’s new president.

The sources said that this was a test for Christian parties and would show whether they were really interested in having a strong president as they claim.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 24, 2014, on page 3.




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