BEIRUT: Long-simmering tensions between March 8 Christian allies over the presidency burst out into the open Monday with MP Michel Aoun criticizing the nomination of MP Sleiman Frangieh, as the latter Monday defended his presidential bid in the face of opposition from the country’s three main Christian parties. In his first comment on Frangieh’s nomination, which gained momentum since he emerged as a strong candidate following his reported meeting with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris last month, Aoun said: “Why should Saad Hariri choose Sleiman Frangieh [as a presidential candidate]?”
“I have not so far been officially informed of the agreement between Hariri and Frangieh. What is the basis of this agreement?” Aoun said in a recorded interview with Russia Today television channel released Monday. “I think the presidency will become a consecration of an accomplished matter like our paralyzed government,” he said. He added that he will announce his stance on Frangieh’s candidacy before the presidential vote.
“My stance on Frangieh’s nomination will either complicate or defuse the situation,” Aoun said.
Referring to the reported deal between Frangieh and Hariri that called for the former to be elected president and the latter to be chosen prime minister, Aoun said: “The premiership for the March 14 and the presidency for the March 8 is a fair solution, but provided that each side will choose its own president.”
Earlier Monday, Frangieh defended his presidential bid, saying he would reject Aoun’s candidacy if it was meant to obstruct his own nomination. It was Frangieh’s strongest and clearest statement on his presidential aspirations since his nomination gained momentum last week. The reported Hariri-Frangieh meeting came amid signs of regional and international support for the Marada Movement leader’s presidential bid.
In a statement issued by his media office Monday, a day after he met with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, Frangieh implicitly criticized the FPM, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party for rejecting his presidential bid without offering a valid argument.
The three parties’ rejection of Frangieh’s nomination could be considered if there was a Christian or national pretext. But if it is on the basis of “why you and not me,” this is entirely another matter and is unacceptable, the statement said.
Describing Sunday’s meeting with Bassil at the latter’s residence in the northern district of Batroun as “cordial, frank and free of commitments,” the statement said Frangieh told Bassil he still supported Aoun’s candidacy and “would give the issue more time if there was a real intention to agree on Gen. Aoun.”
“But if [Aoun’s] candidacy continues merely to obstruct Frangieh's nomination, this is another matter,” the statement warned, clearly implying Frangieh’s rejection of Aoun’s candidacy.
Frangieh also said in his statement that Hariri demanded during his reported meeting with him in Paris an electoral law that would not affect the representation of any sect, without specifying the shape of this law.
“We agreed on rejecting any electoral law that undermines the entity of any sect,” Frangieh said, according to the statement. The statement came in light of media reports that Bassil’s meeting with Frangieh had failed to defuse tensions between Aoun and the Marada leader over the latter’s presidential ambitions.
As part of his meetings with foreign diplomats since he emerged as a strong presidential candidate, Frangieh met Monday at his residence in the northern village of Bneshaai with United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag. The two discussed current developments in Lebanon, the National News Agency reported.
Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc said Monday it canceled its weekly meeting for Tuesday, without giving the reason. It was not immediately clear whether the cancellation of the meeting, during which Aoun often comments on important local issues, including the presidential deadlock, was linked to tensions over Frangieh’s nomination.
So far, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces, and the Kataeb Party have not taken a firm stand on Frangieh’s nomination. Aoun, the FPM leader, who is backed by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, was reported to be staunchly rejecting the idea of withdrawing from the presidential race in favor of Frangieh. Hezbollah, which has refrained from commenting on Frangieh’s presidential bid, reiterated its support for Aoun as its sole candidate for the presidency.
Meanwhile, senior officials of the Future Movement and Hezbollah underlined the need to press on with inter-Lebanese dialogue aimed at reaching an agreement to end the 18-month presidential vacuum, according to a terse statement issued Monday night following a new round of talks held at Speaker Nabih Berri’s Ain al-Tineh residence.
The 21st dialogue session was believed to have centered on the presidential election in the wake of Frangieh’s nomination.
“The two sides discussed political developments, namely those related to constitutional events [presidential election],” the statement said. “They stressed the need to continue the ongoing dialogues in order to speed up reaching national understandings,” it added.
Unlike past dialogue sessions which were marred by tensions, Monday’s talks were held in a calm atmosphere following Hariri’s positive reaction to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s call last month for an all-embracing political settlement on key issues, such as the presidency, the government and a new electoral law.
Separately, a senior Iranian official voiced hopes that a president would be elected in Lebanon soon. Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser on international affairs, spoke to reporters after holding talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail in Beirut.
“We discussed the difficult and dangerous circumstances through which the region and Lebanon are passing in this stage. We hope to see in the near future the election of a president who will be accepted and agreed upon by all the Lebanese factions and all the honorable Lebanese people,” Velayati said, speaking through an Arabic translator.
Velayati, who arrived in Beirut Monday after visiting Syria, where he held talks with President Bashar Assad on the Syrian conflict, is expected to meet with Berri and Nasrallah during his stay here.