Lebanon News

Nassib Lahoud joins race for Lebanon's top post

BEIRUT: Former MP Nassib Lahoud officially announced his candidacy Thursday for the presidential post, amid accelerated efforts on the Lebanese political scene to forge a consensus concerning the presidency and avoid unsolicited escalations. "I am currently in the final stages of writing my presidential platform, where I will include my personal outlook on the peculiar characteristics any Lebanese president must have," Lahoud said in two separate interviews published in the Ousbou al-Arabi and Magazine weeklies.

Lahoud is the third figure from the March 14 Forces to have announced his candidacy for imminent elections in less than a week. MPs Butros Harb and Robert Ghanem announced their candidacy earlier this week, pending their respective platforms. Harb said he would finalize his platform by the end of August, when he is expected to formally announce he is a candidate for the presidency.

"There are a number of highly competent figures among the March 14 Forces capable of being excellent presidents and our group will announce its official candidate in due time ... that is the reason why I submitted my candidacy," Lahoud said.

He added that the results of the Metn by-election confirmed that the March 14 alliance is "the best representative of Christians, and thus is in a better position concerning presidential elections."

While a number of Lebanese politicians have undertaken extensive efforts to reconcile feuding groups prior to the presidential election and contain possible outbursts, hopes for an agreement still seem dim.

Up until Thursday, the March 14 Forces did not seem to endorse the possible scenario of a consensus candidate.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea's comments Thursday reflected the position of the ruling coalition, with Geagea describing a consensus president as an "absurd suggestion."

"Consensus rules out the democratic spirit elections should have," he told a group of LF supporters from overseas at his residence in Maarab. 

The opposition, meanwhile, considers the formation of a national unity government as a key step toward solving pending issues, including the presidential poll.

During a political rally Thursday, Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said only consensus and the formation of a national unity government "would spare Lebanon additional burdens."

"A national unity government is the only gateway to electing the next president."

Veteran mediator of the crisis MP Michel Murr revealed on Thursday that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is expected to visit Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir soon, "in order to discuss with the patriarch his view for a resolution of the 10-month-old standoff."

Berri had told Voice of Lebanon radio last week that he would be announcing a plan of action in the second half of August to solve the continuing impasse. Berri said his efforts were focused on a national unity government as priority.

Speaking after a visit to Sfeir at the latter's summer headquarters in Dimane on Thursday; Murr said the patriarch had "no favorites" concerning the presidential election, adding: "If consensus is reached over the name of the next president, he will serve in his post for six years as stipulated by the Constitution."

Reports recently circulated in the media contended that efforts were under way to elect a two-year transitory president responsible for planning the 2009 parliamentary polls. The 2009 Parliament would then be assigned to elect a president.

The opposition contests March 14 Forces' claims that the latter group forms a majority in the Parliament. The opposition argues that the "quartet alliance" made up of the Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, along with Amal and Hizbullah, which scored a majority in the 2005 parliamentary elections, no longer exists.

The issue of the presidential elections seems of interest to a number of foreign forces, with US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman visiting Berri on Wednesday, "to discuss the speaker's stands concerning the presidential election and the political crisis in Lebanon."

"My visit to the speaker today aims at discussing with him points he raised during an interview last week so as to inform my administration about possible steps to be undertaken in order to help the Lebanese overcome the crisis."

In the same interview last week, Berri expressed confidence that the Lebanese would manage to elect a new president by consensus, reaffirming his commitment to hold an electoral session of Parliament on September 25.

Feltman dismissed the view that his country was planning to name candidates for presidency, saying this was "a Lebanese concern exclusively."

"We want to help in creating an appropriate international and regional atmosphere so as to have the presidential election a real success," Feltman added.





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