BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Monday hit back at critics of his road map, accusing the Christian Gathering of intentionally misrepresenting his initiative to break the presidential deadlock and stirring up tensions over the issue.
“Unfortunately, the Gathering put in so much effort to review Hariri's road map, deliberately misquoted the remarks and overanalyzed intentions that don't even exist,” Hariri’s office said in a statement, referring to a proposal to safeguard Lebanon put forward by the former premier last Friday.
“They also moved political dialogue in the country back to a complicated phase by maintaining the current situation and rejecting any progress toward ending the vacuum in the presidency.”
In a statement Monday, the Christian Gathering - a group of businessmen, politicians and Greek Orthodox clerics formerly known as the Orthodox Gathering - blasted Hariri for rejecting MP Michel Aoun’s controversial proposal to have the Lebanese public elect the president instead of relying on MPs.
Aoun has suggested that Christians would vote in a first round, with the top two candidates then facing a public poll open to voters of all sects.
“No one should give Christians lesson in the National Accord, its circumstances or its principles,” the Gathering said.
“The fundamental thing in the accord is that no legitimate power shall contradict the principle of coexistence. This is a clear, numeric principle stipulating equality between Christians and Muslims.”
“Hariri's criticism of electing a president directly from the people ... is dangerous and we hope it is not deliberate because such talk is a coup on the principle and leaves the presidency at the whims of foreign deals and compromises.”
In a televised address last Friday, Hariri said a new president should be elected as soon as possible before the parliamentary elections scheduled for November, adding that he would hold contacts with various groups including his rivals to reach an agreement.
The Future Movement leader implicitly rejected Aoun’s proposal by saying: “Any attempt to infringe on the formula of national accord and the Taif is a step into the unknown that will only add to the current political reality, more complexity, division and void.”
The Christian Gathering said Hariri's initiative “maintains the disputes and suggests an implicit threat to Christians: that we [Muslims] agreed in the Taif to keep the presidency for you on condition that we decide who the president is.”
"Therefore, electing a president directly from the people in two phases eliminates fears and decides the presidency without any foreign interference.”
Hariri’s office said it refused to engage in disputes aimed at “flooding political dialogue with fabricated, controversial issues that would cover up the problems and real dangers facing the country.”
“The road map that Hariri announced is clear enough and does not need any exceptional analytical talents for intentions or the content," the statement added.