MAARAB, Lebanon: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea blamed his rival Michel Aoun for obstructing the election of a new president, saying the former general has refused to compromise and is insisting that he must be Lebanon’s next head of state.
“On the presidency, cooperation stopped from the first moment because the Free Patriotic Movement came with one proposal – either we support General Aoun or they are not ready to discuss any other option,” Geagea told The Daily Star, referring to Aoun’s political bloc.
“They are of course not ready to support me and I don’t find that strange,” he added. “But beyond that they are not ready for any proposal – either we support General Aoun or nothing else.”
In an interview with The Daily Star at his fortress-like residence in Maarab, Geagea discussed the presidential election, the security situation in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, and the Syrian election.
Lebanese MPs repeatedly failed to elect a president after Aoun and Hezbollah’s blocs boycotted Parliament, arguing that a consensus candidate must be found before the vote. The presidency has been empty since the departure of former President Michel Sleiman late last month.
Geagea said the fate of the election was now in the hands of Hezbollah and the FPM.
“I hope you would ask Hezbollah and the FPM, where is the election?” he said. “When will you kindly complete the quorum and elect a president?”
Geagea said the only solution to the presidential vacuum is to continue urging the March 8 bloc to attend parliamentary sessions and vote on a president in accordance with the Constitution, saying an election pitting rival factions would allow the emergence of a “strong president with popular support.”
Aoun’s bloc has said it would not attend sessions until it concluded discussions with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri aimed at agreeing on Aoun as a consensus candidate.
But Geagea said Hariri had already endorsed the LF leader. “Every week the Future Movement announces its candidate and says Samir Geagea is our presidential candidate,” he said. How are [the talks] not done?” “This is faulty logic,” he added. “All contacts and dialogue and alliances should be done within the constitutional deadlines.”
Geagea said he would consider withdrawing from the presidential race if the March 8 and 14 blocs reached an agreement on nominating specific candidates to the presidency, but he said such candidates must, at a minimum, adopt policies that are aligned with March 14’s presidential program.
He also said that he would contemplate the nomination of another March 14 politician if he could win support from across the political aisle.
“Anybody from March 14 who has better chances than me, in that blocs from the other faction support him, I am ready immediately to consider the issue, completely and without hesitation,” he said.
“But unfortunately, whoever rejects Samir Geagea will reject [Kataeb Party leader] Amine Gemayel, and will reject [MP] Boutros Harb,” he added. “They reject all the logic of March 14.”
But Geagea said the parliamentary elections scheduled for November must be carried out regardless of whether there is a presidential vacuum, after a vote on a new election law.
“In all situations, we must conduct the parliamentary elections, even if we don’t have a president,” he said.
Geagea said he was “not worried” about the security situation in Lebanon, saying that those “who have the power to cause security problems do not want to, because they are busy in Syria,” hinting at Hezbollah.
When asked whether Hezbollah’s victories on the Syrian border helped secure Lebanon from bombings, Geagea said the party’s involvement is what led to such attacks.
“I am completely and utterly convinced that if it were not for Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, we would not have had car bombs or suicide attacks,” he said.
Geagea said that armed groups in Syria were struggling to achieve their objectives there and would not have sought out targets in Lebanon if it were not for Hezbollah’s intervention.
Though the closure of the border near Qalamoun has put an end to bombings “for the moment,” he said that the threat of attacks remains as long as Hezbollah is in Syria.
Hezbollah has sent fighters to aid the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Extremist rebels carried out suicide bombings that killed dozens of civilians over the last year in areas associated with Hezbollah in Lebanon, citing the party’s intervention.
Geagea condemned ongoing presidential election in Syria as a sham, saying the civil war and the regime’s atrocities precluded free and fair elections.
“There is no election in Syria,” he said. “What is happening is lame and tragic theater, because it is happening over the blood and corpses of Syrians from all sides.”
He expressed regret that the Lebanese government allowed what he described as “a part of this theater” to take place in the country, referring to last week’s vote at the Syrian embassy in Beirut.
Geagea said he backed the effort by the current government to re-examine the status of Syrians in the country to identify actual refugees in need of assistance, which he estimated was not more than half of the current refugee population.
There are over a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
“If there is proper sifting [then we can] keep the actual refugees and ask the others to return to their country because they are not in danger and there is no reason for their seeking refuge,” he said.
He also said that Syrian refugees should not take part in political activities in Lebanon.
Geagea also blasted Hezbollah for the party’s campaign against Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai over his recent visit to occupied Jerusalem.
“ Hezbollah cannot set standards and requirements for the actions of the Lebanese, especially Lebanese with positions as important as the Maronite patriarch,” he said.