BEIRUT: Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem Wednesday indirectly urged the March 14 coalition to reach an accord with March 8 on a consensus candidate to help break the presidential stalemate.
He ruled out the election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman unless there was an agreement beforehand between the March 8 and March 14 camps on a consensus candidate for the presidency.
Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale expressed regret that a new president was not elected on time, urging Parliament to pick a successor to Sleiman as soon as possible.
“As the Lebanese Parliament continues its effort to elect a president, the United States will continue its strong partnership with the Lebanese people, their leaders, and their state institutions to advance the goals of peace and stability, and help Lebanon fulfill its international obligations and insulate itself from the spillover of the conflict in Syria,” Hale said in a statement.
Addressing an Islamic event ceremony south of Beirut, Qassem said: “We are clear: The presidential election in Lebanon cannot take place without an agreement.”
Referring to March 14 lawmakers who had attended five aborted Parliament sessions to pick a successor to Sleiman and the March 14 nomination of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea for the country’s top Christian post, he said: “These tricks will not lead to any real result with regard to the election of a president.”
“Those who want the election of a president today and not tomorrow must follow the agreement path. Those who do not take this path, no matter what they do, will only reap a lot of political media rhetoric,” Qassem added.
His remarks came as the country found itself in a presidential vacuum after Parliament failed in its five attempts to choose a successor to Sleiman, whose six-year term ended Saturday.
Hezbollah and several other March 8 parties have rejected Geagea’s candidacy for the presidency as “provocative.”
Parliament was unable to elect a president due to a lack of the two-thirds (86) quorum of the legislature’s 128 members required to begin the session.
Lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies foiled a quorum by boycotting the sessions, apparently to pressure their March 14 rivals into a deal over a consensus candidate for the presidency.
The presidential void has increased Christian concerns about the delicate power-sharing formula between Muslims and Christians.
For his part, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel called for stepped up efforts to elect a president, warning that the presidential void would paralyze state institutions.
“A vacancy in the presidency will lead to a vacuum in institutions. We should respect the National Pact [on power sharing],” Gemayel said following a meeting with a delegation from the Maronite League and the Maronite Council.
Gemayel warned against adapting to a situation without a president and called for the formation of a lobbying force to push for the election of a head of state as soon as possible.
He reiterated his party’s position that Parliament could not legislate while the presidency seat was vacant. “The party sees Parliament as an electoral rather than legislative body throughout the period of the presidential vacancy.”
Meanwhile, Geagea challenged Aoun to run against him during next month’s Parliament session to elect a president. He also criticized Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s comments on the presidential crisis.
The LF chief lashed out at March 8 politicians who labeled him a “provocative” candidate.
“I am a Maronite Lebanese citizen and I enjoy all rights of a citizen. I am the head of the largest Christian party at present, and I have the right to run for president,” Geagea told a news conference at his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut.
“My program is clear and it is true that my opinions do not match the views of Hezbollah, but this does not mean I am running for the election to provoke or challenge anyone.”
Geagea rejected Aoun’s accusation that the LF chief’s bid contradicted the National Pact.
“Aoun does not have 65 votes among lawmakers. If he really has [the support] of this number, let them [March 8 lawmakers] go to the June 9 session to elect him president,” he said.
“If I am really a candidate who contradicts the National Pact as Aoun claims, he should be happy because he would definitely be elected president. If I am rejected by half of the Christians as he [Aoun] claims, he is also rejected by the other half.”
Speaker Nabih Berri, who left Wednesday on a private visit to Italy, has called a new Parliament session for June 9 to elect a president.
Geagea also criticized Nasrallah’s recent comments that the March 14 coalition did not want the election of a new president because they sought the extension of Sleiman’s mandate.
“On what basis is Nasrallah claiming we did not want the election and that we wanted to extend Sleiman’s term? Our group proposed a presidential candidate and attended all Parliament sessions to vote for a new head of state. How can we be seeking the extension in this way?” he asked.
Geagea accused Hezbollah and Aoun’s bloc of obstructing the presidential election by boycotting the parliamentary sessions held to vote for a president.