BEIRUT: MP Sleiman Frangieh declared Thursday for the first time that he was bidding for the presidency, saying an internationally backed initiative supporting his nomination for the country’s top Christian post was still on track despite staunch opposition from the three main Christian parties.
The Marada Movement leader disclosed that he had been coordinating his presidential bid with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah even before his meeting with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris last month, after which he emerged as a strong candidate.
Frangieh also revealed that Nasrallah and Syrian President Bashar Assad do not oppose Hariri’s return to the premiership.
“I am a candidate for the presidency more than at any time before,” Frangieh said in a wide-ranging interview with LBCI channel Thursday night. “I leave an opportunity to Gen. [Michel] Aoun. If he has a chance [to be elected president], I will support him ... I consider myself and Aoun as one in this plan.”
“Hariri will not back down on my candidacy [for the presidency]. Circumstances will decide what will happen,” he added.
It was the first time Frangieh officially declared that he was seeking the presidency following his meeting with Hariri.
He acknowledged differences with Aoun, who is also bidding for the presidency, saying ties with the Free Patriotic Movement founder have not been normal over the past two years. “Gen. Aoun has been saying it’s me [as president] or no one else,” Frangieh said.
Frangieh warned that if a political settlement backing his presidential bid fails, Lebanon would head toward the “unknown,” Lebanese jargon for further instability.
He highlighted the importance of coordination with Hezbollah over his presidential aspirations.
“I have coordinated step by step with Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah from the beginning. Sayyed Nasrallah has supported this atmosphere [a political settlement backing Frangieh’s nomination], but he will not abandon Aoun,” Frangieh said.
“If Gen. Aoun does not have a Plan B, Hezbollah has a Plan B. But this does not mean abandoning Aoun,” he added. “We are waiting and we will not sidestep Hezbollah and Gen. Aoun. We have said from the beginning that if Aoun had a chance [to be elected president], we will all be with him. I did not conspire against Aoun and Hezbollah, but we want to go together.”
Despite the media casting doubts about his presidential nomination, Frangieh said: “Matters [political settlement] are still on track.”
He denied that any deal had been made during a meeting with Hariri to end Lebanon’s 19-month-long presidential void, saying the media had blown it out of proportion once news of the visit emerged. “There was no complete agreement in Paris, there was a discussion, an understanding, a nice atmosphere. And after that we had to go and talk to our teams.”Frangieh said “secret meetings” in Paris had led to Hariri’s initiative to break the presidential deadlock. He warned that any initiative for him to reach the presidency would take time. “From the beginning I said it needs time. Hariri also saw that it needs time,” he said.
Although it is backed by regional and international powers, including Saudi Arabia, Frangieh’s bid is encountering staunch opposition from the three main Christian parties – the FPM, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party – casting gloom over Hariri’s initiative to end the presidential vacuum.
Hariri has stood firm on his support for Frangieh’s nomination for the presidency, defying opposition from the March 8 and March 14 camps to the Marada Movement leader’s presidential bid.
Hariri is backing Frangieh’s nomination as part of an initiative to reach a comprehensive settlement to end the presidential void and revive the work of Parliament and the government paralyzed by the power vacuum.
The initiative calls for electing Frangieh as president and for Hariri to be named prime minister.
“I trust Saad Hariri and like to work with him. But no one can guarantee that he will stay in government for six years,” he said.
“I guarantee not to stab Hariri in the back if we are in agreement. I guarantee not to topple his government.”
“Hariri did not demand to be prime minister. He demanded a government of national reconciliation,” he said.
Frangieh defended his close ties with the Assad regime. “I will not allow anyone to interfere in my relations with President Assad,” he said. “President Assad will not demand from me anything against Lebanon.”
“I have a strategic option. I will be happy if the Syrian regime emerges victorious. But I will not accept the Syrian regime’s intervention at the expense of my country,” he said.
Frangieh said he supported an electoral law based on proportional representation, saying he did not promise Hariri a return to the 1960s voting system. When asked about his presidential platform, Frangieh said “electricity.”
“I no longer want to dream of Lebanon in a political [way.] I want to dream of Lebanon with 24/7 electricity. If I want to build a house, I don’t want to have to worry about hooking up [battery backup systems] and electricity generators,” he said.
Separately, senior officials from the Future Movement and Hezbollah held a new round of talks focusing on ongoing attempts to break the presidential deadlock. The two sides “completed discussions over constitutional events [presidential election] and the need to continue dialogue on it among the parties at various levels with a view to reaching understandings that serve the national interest,” said a terse statement issued after the meeting held at Speaker Nabih Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh.