BEIRUT: MP Sleiman Frangieh said Wednesday he would remain a presidential candidate as long as he enjoyed the support of parliamentary blocs, vowing not to embarrass former Prime Minister Saad Hariri by quitting the race.
Hariri visited Speaker Nabih Berri and stressed that he wanted to end Lebanon’s presidential vacuum at any cost, denying that efforts in this regard were motivated by his interest in becoming a prime minister again.
Meanwhile, the trash crisis dominated the talks of Wednesday’s national dialogue meeting and is expected to top Thursday’s Cabinet session as well.
“As long as there are blocs supporting my candidacy, I will not withdraw,” Frangieh told reporters after having lunch with Hariri at the latter’s Beirut downtown residence.
The Marada Movement leader said that he would preserve his alliance with Change and Reform bloc head Michel Aoun, despite the different points of view, acknowledging that his relations with the Christian leader “were not at their best.”
“If they ask me to withdraw my candidacy to embarrass [former] premier Hariri, then it is not my hobby to embarrass a person who was loyal to me and endorsed my candidacy in a noble way. I will not embarrass any of those who endorsed my candidacy, and I have no problem with those who want to nominate Gen. Aoun,” Frangieh said.
He explained that he agreed with Hariri on many issues.
“If some want to take advantage of my nomination by [former] premier Hariri to stir sectarian tension and to benefit negatively from it, I believe [former] premier Hariri, and my agreement and understanding with him are clear, and he announced it on Feb. 14 and endorsed what I said in the television interview,” Frangieh said in reference to his television appearance last month.
He said he believed that Lebanon’s new president would be enjoying national consensus.
Asked whether he would attend the presidential election session set for March 2, Frangieh said: “All possibilities are on the table and we’ll see how things go. I want to say that I always coordinate with my allies and do nothing without coordinating with the allies.”
Answering reporters’ questions, Hariri underlined that he “is holding onto Frangieh’s presidential bid.”
Asked to comment on Frangieh’s remarks, Hariri said: “The words of Frangieh are of gold.”
Later, Hariri visited Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence and said afterward that he wanted a new president for Lebanon at any cost.
“Saad Hariri wants a president at any cost and has done the impossible [to reach this goal] at a time when all the Lebanese where ignoring the issue,” Hariri said.“What does it mean when we back a March 8 candidate? This means that we are abandoning all our interests and it proves our belief that no one is greater than his country. We consider that what is important is the country.”
Hariri dismissed reports that his interest in becoming a new prime minister again was behind his efforts to end presidential vacuum.
“This is false. I did not raise this issue with Sleiman Frangieh ... he made a proposal,” Hariri said. “If I was asked to become a prime minister, I will assume this post.”
Hariri explained that it was MPs who nominate the new prime minister.
At his Downtown residence, Hariri received British Ambassador-designate Hugo Shorter who voiced hope after the meeting that the Future Movement leader’s return would help end the presidential crisis.
“As I have said before, Lebanon needs a president to take this country forward, to prevent the erosion of state institutions and to help confront the challenges that Lebanon faces at this time,” Shorter said.
Hariri also discussed bilateral relations with Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Hester M.J. Somsen and received Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon Archbishop Gabriele Caccia.
The former prime minister tackled the security situation with Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and held separate meetings with MPs Mohammad Safadi and Nayla Tueni.
Earlier in the day, the country’s garbage crisis dominated a national dialogue session, one day after fresh allegations of corruption and fraud surrounding a trash export scheme surfaced.
Chaired by Berri, the session addressed the difficulties hindering the export plan, the Syrian refugee crisis and the presidential deadlock.
Russian officials were quoted as saying this week that papers presented by British firm Chinook Urban Mining International, proving that Russia had agreed to receive Lebanon’s trash, were actually fake.
The news sparked a heated argument between Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel during the dialogue session.
Gemayel condemned the government for failing to manage the trash collection crisis, calling on the Council of Development and Reconstruction to be held accountable.
“The Council of Development and Reconstruction is the one responsible for the corruption in the trash file and the government must hold it responsible for failing to manage tenders and resolve the crisis,” Gemayel told reporters as he was leaving the session. Salam’s remarks that the opposition expressed by some political groups to the establishment of sanitary landfills across Lebanon had led to the adoption of the export scheme sparked an argument with MP Talal Arslan.
Berri set a new dialogue session for March 9.
Salam, who looked uncomfortable when he left the session, is to chair a Cabinet meeting Thursday.
A source close to the premier said that despite not being on the agenda, the trash crisis would be among the subjects of discussion.
The controversial request by Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi to refer the terror case of former Minister Michel Samaha to the Judicial Council remains on the agenda.
“I will insist on this matter and it’s the reason I will attend the session,” Rifi told The Daily Star.
Rifi stormed out of the Cabinet session last week after the government did not look into the matter.
Samaha, who was released on bail last month, is set to appear before the Military Court of Cassation Thursday.