Lebanon News

Rai: President with majority vote will have my backing

File - Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai heads a Muslim-Christian summit in Bkirki, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Friday denied media reports that he supported an independent presidential candidate over one picked by the March 8 or March 14 groups, saying he supported any properly elected president.

“Any president – whether from March 8, March 14 or from outside these groups – who is elected by the absolute majority in Parliament is our president,” Rai told reporters at Rafik Hariri International Airport after returning from Geneva.

The head of the Maronite Church clarified the remarks he made to foreign media outlets while in Geneva.

“We said what everybody says, which is that if no agreement [among rival groups] is reached over one candidate from the March 14 or March 8 coalitions ... then it will be possible that no one from either the March 14 or March 8 coalitions would assume the presidency,” Rai said, adding that he neither backed nor excluded any particular candidate.

However, sources at the Patriarchate told The Daily Star that Rai had information that local and regional signs indicated that a consensus president unaffiliated with either coalition stood the best chance.

The sources said that a consensus president would prioritize national interest and would believe in a moderate political stance.

Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat told the National News Agency that a meeting between former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri in Riyadh Friday primarily focused on the presidential election.

Former Minister Jean Obeid, a possible presidential candidate, explained Friday why he had not announced his candidacy.

“He considers that rules and customs do not require the announcement of candidacy or a platform for presidential elections,” said a statement issued from Obeid’s office.

“Without false pretenses, he considers himself not to be a candidate so far due to the lack of high chances [for his victory] amid the current circumstances surrounding the competition,” the statement added.

A moderate figure, Obeid maintains good ties with Speaker Nabih Berri, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and other politicians from the rival March 8 and March 14 coalitions. Many view him as a possible consensus candidate for presidential elections.

The constitutional period for the election of the new president began on March 25, two months ahead of the expiry of President Michel Sleiman’s term.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who announced his candidacy last month, said that Lebanon’s salvation lay in having a strong republic that required a strong president with clear stances.

Addressing visitors at his Maarab residence, Geagea said a strong president should be honest, stick to his position, support the state alone and not back down in fear of Hezbollah.

“The strong president is the one who says frankly what he wants and who launches his campaigns in front of the people and not in embassies and behind closed doors, ... who has never sought a post or gains but only wants to be a strong president in a strong republic,” Geagea added.

Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb, also a potential candidate, said on Twitter that he would not announce his candidacy officially, as the Constitution did not require hopefuls to declare their intention to run in the presidential poll.

Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem announced his candidacy.

In an interview by a local television station Thursday evening, Ghanem said he believed in March 8’s values of resistance, but was also dedicated to the values of independence and sovereignty that were emphasized following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Frederic Hof, a former adviser of the U.S. secretary of state, told a radio station that a dangerous vacuum in the presidency was possible, given the domestic repercussions of Syria’s war resulting from Hezbollah’s military involvement. – With additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 12, 2014, on page 1.




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