BEIRUT

Lubnan

Rival camps brace for extended presidential vacuum

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun (C), Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh and Marada official Youssef Saadeh meet in Rabieh, Wednesday, June 11, 2014. (The Daily Star/FPM office, HO)

With the battle over the presidency still raging, both March 14 and March 8 blocs appear ready to play the waiting game until regional and internal developments tilt the scales decisively in one direction or the other.

Speaking to The Daily Star, a high-ranking Hezbollah official blamed March 14 for obstructing the election, accusing the alliance of failing to nominate a serious candidate or reciprocate overtures from Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun despite Riyadh’s seeming ambivalence.

He also said France, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia sought to delay the election of a Lebanese president pending the results of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and the shifting tide in Syria, as well as developments in Egypt, Libya and other countries affected by the Arab Spring.

“We do not seek the election of a president from the resistance or a friend of the resistance so much as we seek a figure who embodies the national spirit in equal measure to our sacrifice and preserves the achievements of the resistance,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Regarding ongoing talksbetween Aoun and the Future Movement, the official described the negotiations as “very serious.”

“We are familiar with some aspects of these talks and are satisfied with the course they are taking, but this needs more time and discussion in order to formulate clear and achievable ideas especially since Aoun’s name constitutes an obstacle for Future’s Christian allies,” he said. “Future will perhaps break [the announcement of] a decision into installments in order to appease the other March 14 parties.”

However, a March 14 official indicated that the coalition is prepared to weather a lengthy presidential vacuum, as the heated internal debate continues over whether the group should continue to support Geagea as its only candidate. In the meantime, March 14 is keeping busy addressing pressing issues, such as the possibility of parliamentary elections this fall, as well as the Syrian refugee crisis.

According to the March 14 source, Geagea is ready to withdraw his candidacy “but only for the benefit of March 14.”

“We do not believe Aoun is ready to meet this condition as he is keen to run himself, and this is a source of embarrassment, particularly to Hezbollah, which is now responsible for the vacuum in the highest Christian post [the presidency],” he said.

He went on to say that in Geagea’s opinion, Iran and Hezbollah are ready to discuss a way out of the vacuum crisis, but they are undecided over what to do with Aoun’s insistence on running.

“Samir Geagea will remain on the table as a candidate ... until Hezbollah publicly announces Aoun’s withdrawal from the race or withdraws its support for him,” he said. “Then a dialogue can start.”

The official denied rumors that the Future-FPM talks had unsettled the Lebanese Forces, insisting that Saudi Arabia will not back Aoun in light of the March 8’s call for a conference to reconsider the political system and other risky proposals.

“March 14, whether with Geagea or some other candidate, is committed to the spirit and letter of the Taif Accord,” he said.

Separately, the Hezbollah official discussed Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent lightning visit to Lebanon, painting his comments as a win for the party.

He said the party leadership is currently discussing the “clear and unequivocal recognition from the highest-ranking American diplomat of Hezbollah’s role in Syria alongside other forces, including influential regional powers such as Russia and Iran, and we consider this a positive development in the form of a recognition of the regional dimension of Hezbollah and its influence.”

The official also pointed to “United States’ admission of its role and that of its allies in sponsoring the takfiri groups that wreaked havoc in Syria and its attempt now to push the consequences on other parties who are on the side of stability and security in Syria such as Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.”

He said Kerry’s decision not to meet with any of the March 14 parties was a disappointment to its leadership, who had hoped for a political life preserver at a critical moment in the region.

The Hezbollah official said party leadership was closely watching regional developments that could help secure Lebanon’s stability, and pushing its allies toward direct communication with their rivals in order to secure national consensus on critical issues such as the presidential vacuum and the election of a new president.

The only subject which the official skirted was Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai’s recent visit to occupied Palestine, which elicited a “No comment.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 12, 2014, on page 2.

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Summary

With the battle over the presidency still raging, both March 14 and March 8 blocs appear ready to play the waiting game until regional and internal developments tilt the scales decisively in one direction or the other.

Speaking to The Daily Star, a high-ranking Hezbollah official blamed March 14 for obstructing the election, accusing the alliance of failing to nominate a serious candidate or reciprocate overtures from Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun despite Riyadh's seeming ambivalence.

Regarding ongoing talksbetween Aoun and the Future Movement, the official described the negotiations as "very serious".

However, a March 14 official indicated that the coalition is prepared to weather a lengthy presidential vacuum, as the heated internal debate continues over whether the group should continue to support Geagea as its only candidate.

The Hezbollah official said party leadership was closely watching regional developments that could help secure Lebanon's stability, and pushing its allies toward direct communication with their rivals in order to secure national consensus on critical issues such as the presidential vacuum and the election of a new president.


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