BEIRUT

Lubnan

Western countries will not interfere in presidential election

President Michel Sleiman arrives to attend a Cabinet session at Baabda Palace, Thursday, March 27, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

As Lebanon entered the two-month constitutional period in which it must elect a new president, Beirut-based Western ambassadors said their countries would not interfere in the upcoming presidential election, preferring to leave details of the issue to Lebanese players, political sources said.

The reason for the reluctance to interfere is that major Western powers are preoccupied with protecting their interests in the region, and the presidential election is not expected to affect these, the sources said.

In the eyes of Western countries, priority is still given to the 3-year-old conflict in Syria, where military victories have recently been declared by both the regime and opposition, as well as the West’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and the failure to make progress in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, they added.

Therefore, the Lebanese must act to set their internal house in order without any foreign guardian, or alternatively wait for a “secret word” from someone to elect a new president, a political source said.

With less than two months left for Parliament to elect a new president to succeed President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year-term in office expires on May 25, political escalation is going side-by-side with a deteriorating security situation, in accordance with the rules of the known political game in Lebanon, the source said.

Important developments are expected this week, starting with a new round of National Dialogue talks among the rival political leaders, which Sleiman called for at Baabda Palace Monday morning.

The Cabinet is also scheduled to meet at Baabda Palace in the afternoon on the same day, in its second session since it won a vote of confidence in Parliament on March 20.

The Dialogue session comes amid a boycott by some parties and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s hint that his group might also not attend.

Nasrallah, whose party’s ties with Sleiman have been strained over the conflict in Syria, called in a televised speech Saturday for the presidential election to be held early “so that we can launch a new phase in Lebanon, and then we can join [National] Dialogue [sessions] and discuss a national defense strategy and mutual cooperation.”

Political sources said Nasrallah’s speech was bound to preclude the possible restoration of communications between Hezbollah and some March 14 political parties.

Following Nasrallah’s speech, lines of contact between the country’s top leaders, especially between Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam, were opened in order to facilitate consultation on the fate of Monday’s Dialogue session and to ensure that the session was held on time.

Sources at Baabda Palace said Sleiman stood firm on his call for Dialogue, something which he has upheld since he took office in May 2008 out of a strong conviction that communication and consultation among rival leaders would energize a set of common principles, similar to the case of the Baabda Declaration.

The declaration, which called on rival parties to distance Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the war in Syria, was endorsed by the rival March 8 and March 14 leaders during a National Dialogue session chaired by Sleiman at Baabda Palace in June 2012.

In addition to the Dialogue and Cabinet sessions, Parliament is also scheduled to hold three legislative meetings this week, in which it will study some 70 items listed on the agenda, including draft laws concerning rent, protecting women from domestic violence and new traffic legislation.

This comes as both popular and official attention will be focused on the government’s security plan to end violence in the northern city of Tripoli.

Military and security forces have begun deploying in some areas in the city, waiting to put the security plan into effect in the hope that it will end 20 rounds of fighting between factions in rival neighborhoods.

A ministerial source said that the promised international aid to support the Lebanese Army through Saudi Arabia’s $3 billion grant and other military donations would constitute the keystone for the smooth implementation of the Tripoli security plan, which was approved by the Cabinet last week.

The quality of the arms supplied by France would bolster the Lebanese Army’s capabilities in facing the wave of violence and terrorism that is increasingly threatening the country, the source said. He added that Lebanon had urged the concerned countries to hasten the delivery of military aid, which the Army and security forces need to confront security threats.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 31, 2014, on page 2.

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Summary

As Lebanon entered the two-month constitutional period in which it must elect a new president, Beirut-based Western ambassadors said their countries would not interfere in the upcoming presidential election, preferring to leave details of the issue to Lebanese players, political sources said.

With less than two months left for Parliament to elect a new president to succeed President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year-term in office expires on May 25, political escalation is going side-by-side with a deteriorating security situation, in accordance with the rules of the known political game in Lebanon, the source said.

Important developments are expected this week, starting with a new round of National Dialogue talks among the rival political leaders, which Sleiman called for at Baabda Palace Monday morning.

The declaration, which called on rival parties to distance Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the war in Syria, was endorsed by the rival March 8 and March 14 leaders during a National Dialogue session chaired by Sleiman at Baabda Palace in June 2012 .


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