BEIRUT: MP Walid Jumblatt is expected to meet former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris in the next 48 hours in the latest flurry of political activity aimed at breaking the presidential stalemate, political sources said Sunday.
Jumblatt will be accompanied on his trip to Paris with Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, who returned Sunday from Morocco after a two-day visit during which he met with Hariri to prepare for the talks between the heads of the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party.
With Parliament having failed for six times since April 23 to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, Hariri and Jumblatt are likely to search for a consensus candidate in an attempt to break the presidential deadlock that has already paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening the Cabinet’s work, a political source told The Daily Star.
If the deadlock is to be broken, a consensus candidate for the presidency should neither be affiliated with the March 14 coalition nor with the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, the source said.
Among potential consensus candidates proposed are Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, backed by the March 14 parties, and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, supported by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, the source added.
Abu Faour described his meeting with Hariri as “excellent” and reiterated the call for the election of a consensus president.
“It is time to get over provocative choices and reach a consensus president. That is why our bloc has named a candidate who meets all [consensus] conditions and we hope he will be endorsed by all the parties,” he told a ceremony in Hasbaya, referring to the PSP’s presidential candidate MP Henri Helou.
Abu Faour said his party appreciated Hariri’s efforts to overcome the Cabinet deadlock. “We also appreciate all big efforts in order to break the presidential impasse,” he said.
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun dismissed reports that he would travel to Paris this week for talks with Hariri on the presidential election.
“What some media has reported regarding trips I am intending on taking soon is completely inaccurate,” Aoun said in a tweet.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, has been holding talks with Hariri on the presidential election. Aoun, who has not announced his candidacy, is presenting himself as a consensus candidate and is seeking the Future Movement’s support for him as such.
Aoun will talk about the presidential election and other issues during an interview with the FPM-affiliated OTV station Tuesday.
Parliamentary sources in the FPM said the interview would not carry anything new and was mainly intended to reassure his supporters over the presidential battle.
“Aoun will not announce any new position on the presidential election issue because nothing new has happened,” the sources said. They added that contacts between Aoun and Hariri, led by Bassil and Nader Hariri, chief of Hariri’s office, were still ongoing.
Aoun still sees that the failure to elect a president before Aug. 20 should prompt the major political parties to agree on a new electoral law and hold the parliamentary elections, the sources said.
For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai again criticized the lawmakers for failing to elect a president.
“The Lebanese people reject their lawmakers’ failure to elect a new president and the ongoing violation of the constitution and the National Pact,” Rai said. “The Lebanese people are sick and tired of such political practices that run contrary to all democratic and constitutional rules.”A Hezbollah official said his party cannot go for consensus while the March 14 coalition was undecided over the election, in an apparent response to former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s appeal for a compromise candidate.
“Some Lebanese consider the presidential void as an opportunity to achieve more gains in power and get a tighter grip on power. This has nothing to do with national responsibility,” Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, said.
“We cannot go for consensus while the March 14 side is still undecided [on whether they really want consensus],” he said.
Siniora, who heads the parliamentary Future bloc, called last week on the March 8 alliance to come forward with their candidate or work with the March 14 to find a compromise candidate for the presidency.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk warned against obstructing Cabinet’s work and slammed attempts to undermine the prime minister’s powers. “No one should believe that the obstruction of the Cabinet or Parliament will result in the election of a new president. The obstruction simply disrupts the presidency as well,” Machnouk said. “Prime Minister Tammam Salam did not fall short, not even once, in his duties. We will not allow anyone to undermine the prime minister’s powers.”
He added that boycotting Parliament or Cabinet are futile actions because they “would not pressure foreign forces to break a deal on the presidency.”
“We are not major parties in the presidential election process. This is a big international and regional game,” Machnouk said.
In what appeared to be a response to Machnouk, Bassil said the prime minister’s powers are not a topic of debate.
“There is no interest for the country in raising this matter. But the question is: Should the president’s few remaining powers be undercut during the vacuum? And is the presidency a bankrupt institution to be distributed among the 24 ministers?” Bassil asked. He called for filling the vacant presidency seat with the election of “a strong president.”