Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel is seeking to rally Christian support for his presidency bid and replace Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea as the March 14-backed candidate, political sources said Wednesday.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, who had brought together rival Maronite leaders in an attempt to agree on a united stance on the presidency race, is convinced that it is very difficult to unify the Christian position and face the presidential battle with a single candidate, Christian political sources familiar with the issue said.
“Gemayel will work hard to become the March 14 coalition’s presidential candidate, replacing Geagea on the pretext that the latter had tried his luck but without success,” the sources said.
“Geagea’s candidacy is posing an obstacle in the way of resolving this issue.”
During a meeting chaired by Rai in Bkirki in late March, Gemayel, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and Marada Movement chief MP Sleiman Frangieh rejected any compromise over the presidential vote and called for the election to be held on time in order to avert a vacuum in Lebanon’s top Christian post. Geagea did not attend the meeting for security reasons but was briefed on the talks.
Gemayel, who served as president of Lebanon from 1982-88, has begun consultations with Christian leaders on the presidential election. He met Aoun Wednesday, a day after he had talks with Geagea.
In addition to consulting with Christian leaders, Gemayel will also seek to sound out the opinions of the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and whether he can muster its support for his presidential bid, the sources said.
The sources added that if Gemayel managed to win March 8’s support, he would inform former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the Lebanese Forces, and subsequently ask Geagea to withdraw from the presidential race.
In the second phase of his strategy, Gemayel will try to promote himself as a presidential candidate who has Christian votes, and subsequently will demand that the Christian choice be respected, the sources said.
However, they said Gemayel’s presidency bid would hit a major snag because it would be difficult for him to convince Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt and Hezbollah to support his candidacy.
In the meantime, parliamentary sources in the FPM said Aoun had told Gemayel during their meeting Wednesday that he himself should be the Christian candidate, for several reasons.
First, Aoun, who heads the parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, enjoys the support of a large Christian popular base, the sources said. If it is not the strongest of any other Christian candidate, Aoun’s popular base is at least equal to the popularity of other Christian candidates, they said.
Second, Aoun enjoys the support of the Shiite community, while there has been no declared objection to his candidacy for the presidency from other sects. This is not to mention the ongoing contacts between the FPM and Hariri’s Future Movement, which are aimed at gaining Future support for Aoun as a consensus candidate, the sources said.
Third, in an attempt to serve the Christian political interest, once agreement has been reached on Aoun as a single Christian candidate, a binding document would be signed under which the president-elect would be obliged to implement his prerogatives and an electoral law, the sources said.
Aoun told Gemayel of the reasons that prevented him from supporting the Kataeb leader for the presidency, and urged Gemayel to support him in the election.
According to the FPM sources, this outcome would be conceivable once Gemayel had exhausted all chances, by signing an electoral agreement with Aoun in Kesrouan, Metn, Baabda and Zahle and siding with the FPM leader against Geagea in these Christian areas, since “the Kataeb Party in particular was not enthusiastic from the beginning about the idea of Geagea’s candidacy and March 14’s adoption of this candidacy.”
The same sources believe that Hariri’s parliamentary bloc remains the kingmaker in the presidential polls and that its support is essential for any candidate to be elected president.
Therefore, since the Future bloc has upheld its support for Geagea despite its firm knowledge that his election is impossible, it is too early to know the fate of this election as long as foreign signals remain unclear, despite the release of statements by Arab and Western countries indicating that the election is a purely Lebanese issue.