BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition is ready to hold direct talks with all Lebanese parties – even Hezbollah – on a consensus presidential candidate, after the group announced what it described as a national compromise initiative.
"The March 14 coalition is committed to the nomination of Samir Geagea and announced at the same time that it is fully willing to hold consultations over a name that Lebanese agree to and [someone] who is committed to national principles similar to Geagea," Future bloc head, MP Fouad Siniora told reporters at a news conference in the Parliament.
Minutes before Siniora spoke, MPs failed for the 11th time to elect a new president with many March 8 coalition lawmakers failing to show up to secure quorum for the session. MP Michel Aoun's bloc, along with Hezbollah, has boycotted the sessions to elect a new president, saying such attempts are futile without an agreement on a nominee.
Speaker Nabih Berri scheduled another election session for Sept. 23.
Siniora said the March 14 group would launch contacts with all political parties "to reach a consensus with all national factions in line with the Taif Accord so we could immediately elect a new president."
"We would stick to our original stance [in nominating Geagea] in case our efforts for this national compromise fail," said Siniora, who was seated next to fellow March 14 lawmakers.
Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan asked his rivals in the March 8 coalition to meet "us halfway," saying his group was ready to hold direct talks with Hezbollah as part of the initiative.
Direct contact between Hezbollah and the Future Movement-led March 14 has been limited for the last several years over the resistance party’s involvement in the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar Assad.
March 14 lawmakers also rejected MP Walid Jumblatt's proposal to limit the presidential term to two years, with Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb saying that the president "was not a contract worker" and that "his strength is derived from his six-year term."
During a conversation with reporters, Siniora described the presidential election as a “master key” that would pave the way for the country to meet constitutional deadlines, including the Parliamentary election, which is expected to be postponed for the second time in less than two years.
After the March 14 announcement, Geagea gave a news conference with March 14 coordinator Fares Soueid.
“I have confirmed since the very first moment that I am not the ‘me or nobody’ candidate,” Geagea said from his office in Maarab.
“The initiative launched by the head of the Future Movement bloc, MP Fouad Siniora, is a step forward, and through this initiative, we will communicate with all political sides to elect a president,” he added.
“The first step is to communicate," the Maronite leader said. “If the other camp is ready to negotiate, then we will discuss names."
Soueid echoed Geagea, saying that March 14’s initiative came because some “current developments required the transcendence up to the level of responsibility.”
“We do not believe that Aoun could possibly be agreed upon as a compromise candidate, because he is a [one-sided] candidate in the presidential battle,” Soueid told reporters.
Soueid praised the initiative, saying it brought “the issue of presidential elections [back] to Lebanon.”
However, minutes after March 14 MPs left the podium, Development and Liberation bloc member MP Qassem Hashem held a news conference, criticizing his political rivals.
“The initiative has not brought anything new, and it is just a repetition of March 14’s previous statements,” he said. “What we need is to agree on the characteristics of the president, and not to shout slogans.”