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Presidency void heightens risks, powers warn

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, center, meets with a number of foreign ambassadors in Bkirki on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. (The Daily Star/NNA,HO)

BEIRUT: The vacancy in the top Christian post will leave Lebanon vulnerable to accumulating security, economic and humanitarian challenges, a U.N. diplomat said Wednesday following a meeting between the Maronite spiritual leader and diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members.

His appeal was echoed separately by the Future Movement and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea. “We call ... on Lebanon’s leaders and members of Parliament to engage intensively to ensure the election of a president without further delay,” U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly said after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai in Bkirki.

Rai hosted envoys from the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and the U.N. to discuss the presidential deadlock, reportedly emphasizing his alarm over the political situation in Lebanon.

Since April, lawmakers have botched seven attempts to elect a new head of state, with the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition boycotting election sessions over the lack of consensus on a presidential candidate.

“The process of selecting a new president must remain a Lebanese one. But Lebanon’s friends in the international community have a strong interest in its completion successfully, and as soon as possible,” Plumbly said.

“At a time of conflict and instability in other parts of the region, and when Lebanon itself faces multiple economic, humanitarian and security challenges, a prolonged vacuum in the highest office of the Lebanese state would indeed be a matter of grave concern.”

U.S. Ambassador David Hale, Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin, Chinese Ambassador to Lebanon Jiang Jiang, U.K. Ambassador Tom Fletcher, the French Embassy’s Charge d’Affaires Jerome Kochhar and Plumbly attended the meeting with Rai, along with Papal Ambassador Gabriel Katcha.

The meeting was held following separate talks between Rai, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Geagea, Aoun’s main rival.Geagea has declared his candidacy for the country’s top Christian post, but offered to step down if a consensus candidate is found or if his allies in the March 14 coalition ask him to.

Aoun has said he would run only if he emerges as a consensus candidate while insisting he is the natural representative of Lebanese Christians.

In an interview with the Central News Agency, Geagea expressed regret that the window for electing a president appeared to be closing in light of Aoun’s obstinacy.

“I do not hide my pessimism, because, according to my information, the general [Aoun] is sticking to his position, so either everyone takes his side, or he won’t attend the parliamentary session to elect a president,” Geagea said.

He added that Lebanese factions should not wait for their respective allies in the region or internationally to step in, as the international community is preoccupied with regional crises including Iraq and the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

He said Lebanon’s options were down to two: Gather all the Christian lawmakers together and remind them of their responsibilities, as proposed by Rai, or hope that popular pressure will convince Aoun to back down from his unofficial claim on the presidency and attend the next parliamentary session to elect a president.

Meanwhile, the Future Movement called on the March 8 alliance to clearly announce their candidate, alluding to Aoun, and warned against a vacuum in the presidency, especially in light of the threats facing the country.

“The bloc reaffirms its position that the vacancy in the presidency must come to an end and Parliament must move quickly to elect a new president,” the bloc said in a statement. “The political and institutional balance in Lebanon cannot continue without a president entrusted with the country and the implementation of the Constitution.”

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Tuesday called for the swift election of a president, saying an intra-Christian accord was a prerequisite for the Future Movement to formulate a stance regarding a presidential poll.

“We, as a political movement, have a clear stance in support of an intra-Christian dialogue so that we can brainstorm ideas and a consensus is reached,” the head of the Future Movement said after a meeting with former President Michel Sleiman in Paris.

“This post [of president] is for all the Lebanese, but it is also a Christian post. This issue is important for us as the Future Movement. Thus, I believe that Christian party heads and leaders should reconcile, forgive each other and engage in dialogue,” the Future Movement leader continued.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 26, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

The vacancy in the top Christian post will leave Lebanon vulnerable to accumulating security, economic and humanitarian challenges, a U.N. diplomat said Wednesday following a meeting between the Maronite spiritual leader and diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members.

His appeal was echoed separately by the Future Movement and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.

Aoun has said he would run only if he emerges as a consensus candidate while insisting he is the natural representative of Lebanese Christians.

The Future Movement called on the March 8 alliance to clearly announce their candidate, alluding to Aoun, and warned against a vacuum in the presidency, especially in light of the threats facing the country.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Tuesday called for the swift election of a president, saying an intra-Christian accord was a prerequisite for the Future Movement to formulate a stance regarding a presidential poll.


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