BEIRUT: U.S. Ambassador David Hale issued an appeal to the Lebanese to take advantage of a rare chance to hold the presidential election free of foreign intervention, saying that the price of a power vacuum was “simply too high.”
“Today Lebanon and its people face another historic moment -- the opportunity to elect a president without foreign intervention,” Hale said.
“Lebanon must seize this opportunity and, following constitutional timelines and processes, elect a new president without allowing any other country to dictate the results. The United States supports this Lebanese process.”
In an op-ed where he drew a parallel between Lebanon and Ukraine, published Tuesday in An-Nahar newspaper and Elnashra news website, Hale wrote that just as Ukraine faces its own challenges, so does Lebanon.
Those challenges include an economy that needs rebuilding, security initiatives that require ongoing support, a refugee crisis that calls for compassion and government-wide coordination, according to Hale.
“Lebanon needs a functioning presidency, parliament, and cabinet to tackle these and other issues,” the diplomat argued. “The choices must be for the Lebanese alone, but they must be made. The price of gaps and paralysis is simply too high.”
The May 25 end of President Michel Sleiman’s term is quickly approaching, with no clear candidate capable of garnering needed majority in Parliament to win the presidency.
A third round of voting is scheduled for Wednesday. However, the session is likely to fail to elect a president amid an expected boycott by most MPs from the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.
Parliament has already failed to elect a successor to Sleiman during the first two rounds of voting, with the second session failing 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 remain split over a compromise candidate.
Lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, who thwarted a quorum in the last session, are determined to boycott the sessions until an agreement on a consensus candidate is reached.
The March 14 coalition has backed Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as its candidate for the presidency.
Hale also urged the Lebanese government to work to ensure that all people in Lebanon uphold the wise policy of dissociation from the war in Syria.
“Foreign interference led to tragic consequences here in the past, and today we see how involvement in Syria by foreign-supported Lebanese groups harms Lebanon,” Hale wrote, in reference to Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.
Hale noted that Lebanese groups fighting for Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria “have attracted extremists and rocked the security and safety of Lebanese throughout Lebanon.”
“This involvement has taken both lives and livelihoods,” he continued. “It has forced Syrians to flee their homes, with more than one million coming to Lebanon to seek safety.”
Hale underscored that the strain of the refugee crisis was obvious and “the burden great.”
The ambassador explained that the U.S. has contributed more than $340 million in humanitarian aid to help host communities and refugees cope.
“But the only real solution is finding a political end to the war,” he added. “To do that, the Lebanese must not intervene in this foreign conflict.”
Concluding his piece, Hale said that his country stands united “with the Lebanese people who seek peaceful - and constitutional - ways to address problems in Lebanon, keep Lebanon free from foreign intervention and ensure a safe, secure, and prosperous Lebanon for all Lebanese.”