BEIRUT: Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel is a candidate for the presidency and will embark on an initiative to avert a vacuum in the country’s top Christian post, a senior Kataeb official said Monday.
The remarks by former Minister Salim Sayegh, a member of the Kataeb Party’s Political Bureau, come two days before Parliament is set to convene to try to elect a new president amid growing signs that Wednesday’s session is doomed to fail in the absence of a local and regional accord over a compromise candidate.
Members of the National Dialogue Committee demanded that the presidential election be held on time in order to avoid a power vacuum.
In a statement issued following the final Dialogue session chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace, they called for “respecting the constitutional presidential and parliamentary deadlines and avoiding a vacuum in the presidency position by securing the legal [two-thirds] quorum required to elect a new president within the set constitutional deadlines.”
They also called for holding the parliamentary elections, scheduled in November, on time.
Addressing the Dialogue session, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora warned of a presidential vacuum if a new head of state was not elected before Sleiman’s six-year term in office expires on May 25.
“Unfortunately, we have not so far succeeded as Lebanese and as lawmakers in electing a new president. This is the responsibility of everyone. There is fear that we might reach the constitutional deadline without the election of a new president,” said Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc. He added that efforts should be exerted to prevent falling into a vacancy in the presidency.
Speaking to The Daily Star by phone, Sayegh said Gemayel would launch an initiative starting Tuesday aimed at averting a much-feared vacuum in the presidency.
He said Gemayel, a key leader in the March 14 coalition who served as president of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988, plans to begin consultations with leaders in the rival March 8 and March 14 camps to explore ways to elect a new president on time.
“Gemayel’s main concern is to prevent the presidency seat becoming vacant by May 25. His consultations with party leaders are aimed at drawing up a common plan to break the presidential stalemate,” Sayegh said.
Earlier Monday, Gemayel said he would launch contacts with political parties in order to “salvage” the presidential vote.
Asked if Gemayel’s initiative was designed to eventually clear the way for his formal candidacy for the presidency, Sayegh said: “Gemayel’s candidacy is a fait accompli and it does not need an official declaration. His candidacy is a must.”
Gemayel warned that the failure to elect a president on time would be destructive for the country and state institutions. “I will hold a series of contacts starting tomorrow [Tuesday] and meet with leaders from all parties to discuss ways to break this deadlock and salvage the presidential election,” Gemayel told reporters after chairing the Kataeb Party’s weekly meeting in Saifi. “We will work to explore the best means to save the country and accelerate holding the presidential election.”
“The presidential election can only take place on time if we communicate and take into account the national interest above all others,” he said, vowing to work as hard as possible to resolve the impasse.
“Should the situation continue as it is, it will have a destructive impact on all institutions and the fate of the country,” Gemayel added.
Gemayel, who was expected to officially announce his candidacy two weeks ago, said: “I am raising the slogan of salvaging the republic through salvaging the presidential election.”
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Assiri discussed with Sleiman bilateral relations and Arab developments, the National News Agency reported.
Assiri, who returned to Lebanon last week following a monthslong absence for security reasons, has called for an inter-Lebanese consensus on the next president.
With no clear candidate capable of garnering needed majority in Parliament to win the presidency, the third round of voting scheduled for Wednesday is doomed fail to elect a president amid an expected boycott of the session by most March 8 coalition MPs.
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 power vacuum as the rival factions remained split over a compromise candidate.
Lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, who have thwarted a two-thirds quorum in the past two sessions, are determined to boycott Wednesday’s session until a pre-agreement on a consensus candidate is reached.
The March 14 coalition has backed Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as its candidate for the presidency.
Aoun, the March 8 coalition’s undeclared presidential candidate, has so far failed to convince the Future Movement to support him as a consensus candidate. Sources in Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc said that given the March 14 refusal to accept him as a consensus candidate, the bloc would continue to boycott the parliamentary electoral sessions even after May 25.
With a presidential vacuum appearing to be almost certain, no one could predict what the political situation would be like after May 25 when Sleiman leaves Baabda Palace.
When asked if he had a plan B if he failed to be elected president, Aoun stressed that he did not have an alternative plan, saying the situation would be different after May 25. Aoun said he had many things to say if some March 14 politicians succeeded in convincing the Future Movement to stop negotiations with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and reject Aoun’s election to the presidency.
For their part, the March 14 parties are waiting for former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s final decision on whether to continue his support for Geagea’s candidacy or to nominate another March 14 figure and work to secure enough votes for him to be elected president.
This, however, cannot be attained without reaching an understanding with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, viewed as the “kingmaker” in the presidential vote.