BEIRUT: Lebanon is bracing for yet another botched election session Wednesday, as diplomats based in Beirut warned against power vacuum and pressed for picking a new president before May 25.
“Following constitutional timelines and processes, [ Lebanon must] elect a new president without allowing any other country to dictate the results,” U.S. Ambassador David Hale wrote in an op-ed published in two Arabic-speaking local media outlets Tuesday.
“The choices must be for the Lebanese alone, but they must be made. The price of gaps and paralysis is simply too high,” Hale warned.
Echoing Hale, Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri told reporters following talks with Speaker Nabih Berri the Lebanese should choose their new president.
Asiri, who resumed his diplomatic activity last week after a long absence is Riyadh, highlighted that his country was keen on stability and consensus in Lebanon.
"Saudi Arabia hopes for a consensus over a president who continues on the path of President Michel Sleiman and maintains the policy of disassociation,” Asiri told a local television station.
“Hezbollah’s demand for a president who supports the resistance is their business and it's shameful [for Hezbollah] to tie the fate of Lebanon with a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement,” he added.
Avoiding a power vacuum also ranked among the top priorities of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai who is reportedly seeking the extension of President Michel Sleiman’s mandate which expires May 25.
Political sources told The Daily Star that Rai made the suggestion during an April 24 meeting with Berri just before heading to Rome.
Rai suggested extending Sleiman’s term by one year if lawmakers failed to elect a new president by the deadline, the sources added. The extension requires a constitutional amendment.
Diplomatic sources in Rome said Rai was seeking to market Sleiman’s extension while visiting the Italian capital.
They said Rai, who has raised the issue with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, is pushing the extension based on a study prepared by Sleiman’s legal team.
Kataeb Party head Amine Gemayel, for his part, kicked off Tuesday his bid to "salvage" the presidential election process.
Following talks with presidential hopeful Samir Geagea at the latter's residence in Maarab, Gemayel said Lebanon's next president must reassure Christians and alleviate the fears of the Lebanese in general.
"We are looking for a president who is capable of leading the country and not merely manage the presidential palace," he told reporters
Gemayel confirmed to reporters that Geagea remained that March 14 alliance’s sole and official candidate to the presidency. “Nothing has changed Dr. Geagea is still the March 14’s official candidate.”
Gemayel said the purpose of his efforts was "to save the republic before it's too late." "This means electing a president within deadlines set by the Constitution," he continued.
Gemayel's meeting with Geagea is part of the former president's efforts to elect a new president on time and avert a vacuum in the country's top Christian post.
"In light of the current circumstances, the next president should have the capacity to safeguard [national] partnership and represent the aspirations of a large section of the Lebanese," he said.
On Monday, Gemayel announced that he would launch contacts with the various political parties in order to "salvage" the presidential election, warning that a failure to hold the election on time would harm state institutions.
Although Gemayel is said to be a natural candidate for the post, he has not announced that he is running for the seat.
The Change and Reform bloc of Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun, another presidential hopeful who has yet to announce his candidacy, said it will not vote for a “compromise candidate.”
“All compromises entail concessions and we are not in a position to make concessions,” former Labor Minister Selim Jreissati told reporters following a meeting of the Reform and Change bloc at Aoun’s residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.
Jreissati defended the bloc’s decision to boycott election sessions, “as a stance against attempts to impose a compromise candidate.”
Last week, Change and Reform bloc and March 8 parties except Berri’s Development and Liberation bloc boycotted a session to elect a new head of state, which failed to achieve quorum as a result.
March 14 MPs argue that by obstructing election sessions, the Change and Reform bloc was dragging the country toward a power vacuum.
“We are obstructing masked vacuum and confrontational plans,” Jreissati said, in a veiled reference to Geagea’s candidacy, which has stirred controversy in light of the latter’s prominent role in Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War.
“The Free Patriotic Movement and the Change and Reform bloc will not accept a confrontational president,” the former minister added. “We will only endorse a strong a consensual president.”
Aoun and his aides have held several rounds of talks with Hariri to convince him to endorse Aoun’s so far covert presidential bid. Discussions with the head of the Future Movement have yet to yield conclusive results.
“We are not begging for any posts,” Jreisati said. “We take our power and legitimacy from the people.”