BEIRUT: Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel challenged MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement Tuesday to attend the upcoming presidential election session, saying that its absence would raise doubts over its recently formed alliance with the Lebanese Forces. “If [the bloc of] Gen. Aoun does not attend the session, this raises a question mark over his commitment to the agreement [with LF leader Samir Geagea], which stipulates respect for the Constitution,” Gemayel told a group of reporters at the Kataeb’s main headquarters in Saifi. “The Feb. 8 session represents a big test.”
“Is it possible that the presidential candidate would not attend an election session while those backing him show up?” Gemayel asked.
Despite Geagea’s stated support for his candidacy, Aoun hinted that his group would not attend any election session if there were a rival candidate facing him.
Similarly, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said last week that the group’s MPs would only show up to an election session if Aoun’s victory were guaranteed.
“Linking attendance at the election session to the victory of a specific candidate is unacceptable. This has never happened anywhere else in the world,” Gemayel said.
The Metn lawmaker said his party would respect the outcome of any election session as part of its respect for the democratic process.
In a surprise about-face last month, Geagea announced his support for Aoun, a longtime rival, in a step aimed at undermining the candidacy of MP Sleiman Frangieh, who had secured the backing of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The announcement of the agreement came during a meeting between Aoun and Geagea at the LF leader’s residence in Maarab.
During the gathering, Geagea read from the agreement of mutual understanding between the LF and the FPM, which called “for the respect of the Constitution.”
It stated that “the Lebanese Army must morally and financially be supported, and it must, with all other security agencies, completely take control of the country’s security.”
Geagea and Aoun both stated that Lebanon must not be a haven or transit country for militants and arms smugglers.
But Gemayel questioned if the two Christian leaders really had the same stance on whether their agreement bestowed legitimacy on Hezbollah’s arms.
He pointed to remarks made by Aoun to a local daily last week. Commenting on the issue, Aoun said that “weapons of the resistance were legitimized by the Taif Accord.”
“This position disagrees with that of Geagea,” Gemayel said.
The Kataeb leader said that as yet, his group has been unwilling to vote for either Frangieh or Aoun, as neither has answered the party’s questions about Lebanon’s foreign policy, particularly with regard to the Syrian crisis.
He reiterated that Lebanon was in need of a consensus president, rather than one from the March 8 or March 14 coalitions, one who would take a neutral stance on the Syrian conflict and regional turmoil.
“The president should advocate a neutral stance, be a consensus figure, implement the Constitution, and protect sovereignty,” Gemayel said.
“A March 8 president will trigger a reaction from members of the Sunni sect and could lead to more extremism, and a March 14 president could push the Shiites to react as well,” Gemayel said. He added that so far, neither Aoun nor Frangieh had shown a willingness to be a consensus candidate.Gemayel said that alliances within the March 8 and March 14 coalitions have “broken up” in light of recent realignments.
“Much harm has been inflicted on the political alliances. There is a big confidence crisis now within the March 8 and March 14 coalitions, each group is taking political tactical steps on its own,” Gemayel said.
He said that March 14 parties “surrendered to the current situation” when they decided to back March 8 candidates.
“When we decide to back a camp whose strategy contradicts with our convictions because we are tired, I call this surrender.”
He acknowledged, however, that the March 8 and March 14 groups still shared some common ground on issues such as Hezbollah’s arsenal.
Gemayel also dismissed the idea that a “strong president” must be from either the March 8 or March 14 bloc. “Do you support a strong president if he is leading you to mass suicide?” he asked. “Isn’t it possible to have a consensus president [who is] a strong president?”
Gemayel denied that Lebanon’s four Maronite leaders had agreed that one of them must be elected president during a series of meetings chaired by the Maronite patriarchate. The meetings brought together Geagea, Aoun, Frangieh and former President Amine Gemayel.
The Kataeb leader dismissed media reports that alleged that a recent meeting between delegations from Kataeb and Hezbollah was aimed at forging a “behind-the-scenes agreement.”
“Communication with Hezbollah has been underway for the past three or four years ... we are doing this publicly. We do not sever ties with any group,” Gemayel said, adding that talks between the two groups were aimed at addressing disputes over sovereignty and Lebanon’s role in the region.
“We meet once or twice per month to check if there’s a possibility of achieving a breakthrough in our relations. So far, Hezbollah has not demonstrated readiness to move into a new phase of relations,” he said.
Gemayel said that the media reports were part of a campaign against the Kataeb during the presidential elections. “This media campaign is aimed at tarnishing the reputation of the Kataeb,” he said.