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Sleiman to chair ‘farewell’ Dialogue session on defense

  • Sleiman speaks at the inauguration of the President Michel Sleiman Sports Village in Jbeil, Sunday, May 4, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati&Nohra,HO)

BEIRUT: This week’s Parliament session to elect a new president is again doomed to fail in the absence of an agreement on a compromise candidate, political sources said Sunday, as foreign ambassadors struggled to avert a power vacuum.

Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman is scheduled to chair a new round of National Dialogue Monday, widely deemed a farewell session, 20 days before his six-year term in office expires. The session is to continue discussing a national defense strategy.

“The National Dialogue session will be a farewell session but governing is a continuous process. Dialogue must continue following the election of a new president,” a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star.

Hezbollah and three other March 8 parties boycotted the last National Dialogue session held at Baabda Palace on March 31 in protest at what they perceived as Sleiman’s biased stances. The Lebanese Forces had also boycotted previous Dialogue sessions, dismissing them as “a waste of time.”

Sleiman’s relations with Hezbollah have been strained over the president’s repeated criticisms of the party’s military involvement in the war in Syria. Hezbollah has also rejected Sleiman’s proposal for a national defense strategy that would allow the party to keep its arms, but place them under the command of the Lebanese Army, which would have exclusive authority to use force.

The March 8 source concurred with a senior source in the Future Movement that a Parliament session this week would not lead to the election of a president.

Speaker Nabih Berri has not been notified of any positive development regarding the presidential vote. Therefore, he is not optimistic about Wednesday’s session,” the March 8 source said.

A similar gloomy view was echoed by the Future source. “This week’s parliamentary session appears to be doomed to fail due to a lack of quorum like the previous two sessions. All signs indicate that there has been no change in the March 8 position on boycotting the session,” the source told The Daily Star.

The source warned that Lebanon faced the threat of a vacuum in the presidency “if there was no regional and international accord on a consensus candidate by May 25.” Asked to comment on the stepped up flurry of activity by Arab and foreign ambassadors focusing mainly on the presidential polls, the source said: “One can conclude that their moves are aimed at facilitating and holding the election on time.”

But Sleiman warned Lebanese leaders and lawmakers against linking the presidential election to external accord. “I appeal to Lebanese lawmakers and leaders not to tie the presidential election to an external accord which is [currently] non-existent,” he said during the opening of a new sports stadium in Jbeil, north of Beirut, Sunday.

The March 8 source welcomed the return of Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Assiri to Lebanon last week following a monthslong absence for security reasons. “The Saudi ambassador’s return will help bolster stability in Lebanon and assist in holding the presidential election,” the source said.

Assiri, who is expected to begin talks with Lebanese leaders this week on the presidential vote, has called for an inter-Lebanese consensus on the next president.

Berri warned that Lebanon faced “a real and serious” threat of a presidential vacuum if a lack of quorum is to be repeated during the third Parliament session to elect a president Wednesday.

His warning comes as Arab and foreign ambassadors have launched a flurry of activity aimed at facilitating the election of a new president on time to prevent a power vacuum.

A day after Assiri arrived in Beirut, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale traveled to the Saudi capital Riyadh for talks with Saudi officials and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on the presidential election. Hale will also discuss with Saudi officials and Hariri international support for Lebanon, a U.S. Embassy statement said Saturday.

Hale’s Saudi trip came a day after he had talks with Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam on the presidential election. Political sources said Hale relayed a clear message to Lebanese leaders on the need for the presidential poll to be held on time.

Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi also discussed the presidential election during a meeting with Berri. Speaking to reporters after the meeting Saturday, Roknabadi stressed the need to “strengthen Lebanese unity and solidarity, particularly in these circumstances.”

Last Wednesday, Parliament failed to elect a new president for the second time in a week due to a lack of a two-thirds quorum of the legislature’s 128 members, raising fears of a vacuum in the top Christian post as the rival factions remained split over a compromise candidate.

Berri called Parliament to meet again Wednesday amid threats by lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies to continue boycotting the sessions until a pre-agreement on a consensus candidate was reached.

The March 14 coalition has backed Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as its candidate for the presidency.

Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel said he aspired to become a consensus president, adding that he had a better chance of winning than Geagea.

“I aspire to become a consensus president, but my aspirations are not enough to make it real as all political parties have their own calculations,” Gemayel said in interview published in the Saudi newspaper Okaz.

“I have kept contacts with all [political] rivals even at the darkest times in the country, that is why no independent group or party from the March 8 coalition would meet me with the negativity with which they met Geagea’s [candidacy], which gives me a chance,” he said.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, renewed its demand for the election of a president who would support the resistance under any circumstances.

“We in the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc and our allies support a candidate who is loyal to the resistance, a president whom we trust to remain loyal in all circumstances and throughout all political changes,” Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi told a memorial ceremony in south Lebanon.

Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan, also a Hezbollah MP, said the next president should uphold the controversial tripartite equation of “the Army, the people and the resistance.”

“[This equation] means liberation, sovereignty, immunity and strength, which resulted in liberating the land and put an end to aggressive attacks,” he told a ceremony in the eastern city of Baalbek.

 
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Summary

This week's Parliament session to elect a new president is again doomed to fail in the absence of an agreement on a compromise candidate, political sources said Sunday, as foreign ambassadors struggled to avert a power vacuum.

The March 8 source concurred with a senior source in the Future Movement that a Parliament session this week would not lead to the election of a president.

Sleiman warned Lebanese leaders and lawmakers against linking the presidential election to external accord.

Assiri, who is expected to begin talks with Lebanese leaders this week on the presidential vote, has called for an inter-Lebanese consensus on the next president.

Berri warned that Lebanon faced "a real and serious" threat of a presidential vacuum if a lack of quorum is to be repeated during the third Parliament session to elect a president Wednesday.

Iranian Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi also discussed the presidential election during a meeting with Berri.


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