BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition offered Tuesday to strike a deal with its March 8 rivals on a consensus candidate for the presidency, in the latest attempt to break the deadlock that has left Lebanon with no president for more than three months.
However, the initiative was swiftly dismissed by MP Michel Aoun’s bloc as an “old and meaningless initiative,” while Speaker Nabih Berri said it offered nothing new.
The March 14 initiative was announced shortly after Parliament failed for the 11th time to elect a new president over a lack of quorum, prompting Berri to postpone the session until Sept. 23.
Only 58 lawmakers from the 128-member Parliament came, mainly from the March 14 bloc and Berri’s bloc, well below the two-thirds (86) required to convene the session.
Lawmakers from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, Hezbollah’s bloc and its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum by consistently boycotting parliamentary sessions, demanding an agreement beforehand with their March 14 rivals over a consensus candidate.
Berri was quoted by visitors as saying: “I have called for a 12th session and will probably call for a 13th session. So far, there has been nothing new at the presidential level.”
On the March 14 initiative to break the presidential impasse, Berri said: “It is not new because Dr. Samir Geagea had proposed it last June.
“There is nothing new in it except the formation of a communication committee,” he added, referring to the proposal by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the head of the Parliamentary Future bloc to contact members of other blocs in an attempt to reach a compromise.
Berri said he had halted joint moves with MP Walid Jumblatt to reach a political compromise over the presidential election following an uproar in Christian areas, protesting these moves. “They spread a climate saying that Muslims are deciding the Christian president. Now, we have halted these moves and let’s see what will they do.”
While upholding its support for Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as its presidential candidate, the March 14 coalition said it was ready for talks with the Hezbollah-led March 8 parties to reach agreement on a consensus candidate.
“The March 14 coalition is committed to Dr. Samir Geagea’s candidacy for the presidency and announces at the same time that it is fully ready to hold consultations with all the parties over a name on which the Lebanese agree and who is committed to national principles,” Siniora told reporters in Parliament.
In announcing the March 14 initiative, Siniora, flanked by a number of March 14 lawmakers, said the Future Movement-led coalition would make “necessary contacts with all political parties to reach consensus on a national compromise in compliance with the Taif Accord so we could immediately elect a new president.”If these national compromise efforts failed, Siniora said, the March 14 coalition would uphold their stance on supporting Geagea’s candidacy. He described the presidential election as a “master key” that would pave the way for the country to address other crucial issues.
The Future bloc praised the initiative. “In the face of increasing dangers emanating from the region’s developments and their repercussions in Lebanon, came the initiative of the March 14 coalition which announced its readiness today to agree with all other Lebanese parties on a compromise to elect someone who enjoys the needed support to become the country’s next president,” the bloc said in a statement. “This initiative clears the way for a consensus on the next president, and subsequently steer Lebanon to safety to help achieve national cohesion and bolster stability.”
However, the March 14 initiative drew scorn from Aoun’s bloc. “The March 14 initiative that was proposed today is old, repetitive and meaningless,” former Labor Minister Salim Jreissati told reporters after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by Aoun in Rabieh.
He said Aoun had proposed his own salvation initiative. “Any proposal outside Gen. Aoun’s initiative is a distraction and a waste of time.”
Aoun last month proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow the president to be elected by a popular vote. But the proposal has been rejected by March 14 lawmakers, who argued that the amendment would potentially change Lebanon’s political system.