BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora Monday advised the Free Patriotic Movement to stop counting on a change of heart within the Future Movement to drop its support for MP Sleiman Frangieh’s candidacy in favor of MP Michel Aoun’s presidential bid.
Siniora’s remarks to The Daily Star were the clearest response so far from the head of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc to the FPM’s long-standing bets on support from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to boost Aoun’s chances for being elected as president.
“We are committed to supporting MP Sleiman Frangieh’s candidacy for the presidency, while we reject Gen. Aoun’s presidential bid. This is the Future bloc’s final stance,” Siniora said.
Siniora said he had relayed the bloc’s final position on the presidential crisis during a private and closed meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri who visited Lebanon last week as part of an Egyptian bid to help end the power vacuum, now in its third year.
However, Shoukri’s two days of talks with Lebanese leaders from both sides of the political spectrum had failed to make any breakthrough in the presidential deadlock, as the rival factions refused to budge on their conflicting positions on who should be Lebanon’s next president.
Siniora’s remarks came as a number of lawmakers from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc bombarded local TV stations and newspapers with statements that the FPM was still waiting for a final response from Hariri to the ongoing negotiations between the FPM and the Future Movement over the presidency issue, as well as to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s recent overture to Hariri over the premiership.
The Future bloc has dismissed Nasrallah’s premiership offer to Hariri as unconstitutional, saying the Hezbollah chief cannot impose Aoun as a sole candidate for the country’s top Christian post.
Siniora said the Future Movement had made its maximum concessions in its attempt to resolve the presidential crisis. He recalled that the Future bloc had first supported Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, one of the four top Maronite leaders for the presidency, following the leaders’ meeting in Bkirki chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.
The other three leaders are Aoun, Frangieh and former President Amine Gemayel.
“Hariri then took the initiative [last November] of supporting Frangieh, who is also from the March 8 alliance,” Siniora said. “We made our utmost concessions which were not reciprocated by the other [March 8] side.”
Siniora has also rejected Speaker Nabih Berri’s proposal for a “full package” deal to end the presidential vacuum, saying it infringed on the Constitution and the Taif Accord.
Asked where the country was heading, Siniora said: “It seems that Lebanon will enter a difficult period as the presidential vacuum crisis will drag on.”
He criticized rival leaders who held three national dialogue sessions earlier this month for diverting attention from the two main topics on the agenda: the election of a president and agreement on a new electoral law, and focusing instead on the creation of a senate and administrative decentralization.
“The election of a president is top priority and is the master key to resolving the political crisis,” Siniora said. He added that the Future bloc has softened its stance on a vote system, by accepting a hybrid proposal based on proportional representation and a winner-take-all system.
Despite the failure of national dialogue to make any progress in the presidential election impasse or a new vote system, Berri insisted that a “full-package” deal was the only solution to the protracted crisis. The deal includes the election of a president, an agreement on a new electoral law, the shape of a new government and administrative decentralization.
Referring to the impact of regional developments on the Lebanese crisis, Berri said in remarks published by Al Joumhouria newspaper Monday: “No matter what happened abroad and no matter what comes from abroad, no solution to the Lebanese crisis except through a full package. It’s useless to wait for the outcome of developments in the region.”Having failed to make any breakthroughs in the presidential election crisis and a new vote system during the dialogue sessions, the rival leaders from the opposing March 8 and March 14 camps as well as independent politicians shifted their attention to the creation of a senate and administrative decentralization, two items stipulated in the Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War.
They agreed to set up a committee of experts that would study the creation of a senate. They also referred an administrative decentralization proposal to Parliament’s joint committees and sought to establish workshops that would lead to the establishment of a senate. A new dialogue session has been set for Sept. 5.
Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi called for supporting Berri’s dialogue efforts as a means to resolve the presidential crisis. “Speaker Berri is aware before others of the difficulties and obstacles that might obstruct the initiatives he launched. But he is trying in this difficult stage to turn mirage into water,” Azzi told reporters after meeting Berri at the latter’s Ain al-Tineh residence. “We must support Speaker Berri in the national dialogue process so that he can succeed in laying the appropriate ground for the presidential election.”
The Kataeb Party said the election of a president is the key to improving and developing the country’s sectarian-based political system.
“Political, constitutional and institutional life cannot be normalized and the system cannot be improved except with the presence of a president who is the director and guardian of the Constitution,” said a statement issued after the weekly meeting of the party’s Political Bureau chaired by Kataeb chief MP Sami Gemayel.