BEIRUT: MP Butros Harb announced his candidacy for Lebanon's forthcoming presidential election on Thursday, while calling on various political groups to reach an agreement concerning the constitutional procedures tied to the poll. "I will immediately withdraw my candidacy if it is likely to stir more conflicts on the Lebanese political scene," Harb told a large audience who rallied to the Parliament's headquarters in Downtown Beirut.
During the two-hour conference, Harb presented his platform, which tackled a number of political as well as economic and social issues.
"My candidacy to the presidency is conditional; I will pull out of the race if politicians fail to reach a common understanding on the quorum needed to elect the next president," he said.
A heated debate concerning the quorum to elect the next president was set off in political circles a few months ago. While the opposition calls for a two-thirds quorum to elect the next president, the ruling coalition is pressing for the absolute majority option.
Article 49 of the Constitution stipulates that the president "shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient."
"I was determined to present my candidacy for the presidential race out of conviction that the election is a strictly Lebanese concern rather than an outside deal which does not take the opinions and aspirations of the Lebanese into consideration," Harb said.
The presidential hopeful said if he were elected, he would make sure to resume national dialogue and move it to the Presidential Palace, "so as to spare [Speaker] Nabih Berri from the burdens of such a task."
Harb also addressed the issue of Hizbullah's weapons, saying an "honorable solution ought to be found because the resistance has made a lot of sacrifices to liberate the South."
"The resistance should be able to protect Lebanon and pursue its goals by merging with the Lebanese Army within the framework of a clear-cut defense strategy," he argued.
Harb added that the Lebanese authorities should be the only ones to possess weapons on Lebanese territories.
Concerning Lebanese-Syrian ties, which have suffered in the aftermath of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, Harb said the continuing crisis should be brought to an end.
"We call for Lebanese-Syrian dialogue to solve all pending matters, to outline the nature of future ties, and achieve a historical reconciliation between our two countries," he added.
Harb said a "healthy and equal" relationship with Syria could be achieved by "an exchange of embassies, the demarcation of borders, and revisiting past agreements in order to avoid previous mistakes."
An array of political as well as media figures were present at the briefing. The Parliament's auditorium was packed with reporters and photographers and the conference was moderated by the head of the Press Federation, Mohammad Baalbaki, and the head of the Journalists Union, Melhem Karam.
Harb outlined the requirements of Lebanon's next president as being "independent, democratic, open and transparent," adding that "Lebanon's next president should refuse any form of hegemony, represent all the Lebanese, and most important respect the Constitution and the Taif Accord."
Harb's platform focused on two major themes: reform and accountability. He vowed to introduce major reforms to public administrations, "so as to ensure better productivity." He also said accountability would be applied in all public sectors.
Harb also stressed the necessity of reforming the judiciary, "because preserving the independence of the judiciary is a key step toward the building of a healthy state."
He also promised to have a fair and efficient electoral law shaped "as soon as possible."
"I endorse an electoral law based on district representation as a first step, but I am a supporter of proportional representation; yet this could be applied at later stages," he said.
Harb, who started his career as a lawyer, was elected to Parliament in the 1976, 1996, 2000, and 2005 elections. He also served as education minister in 1979 and 1991 and as public works and transportation minister in 1980.
"I announce my candidacy today because I believe we should not surrender to despair and anxiety," he said. "Let us all work together to prevent our children from seeking better opportunities elsewhere and let's build a democratic and free nation."