Lebanon News

Hariri: Christian dialogue essential for election

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, right, meets with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Tuesday called for the swift election of a president, saying an intra-Christian accord was a prerequisite for the Future Movement to formulate a stance regarding a presidential poll.

“We, as a political movement, have a clear stance in support of an intra-Christian dialogue so that we can brainstorm ideas and a consensus is reached,” Hariri said after a meeting with former President Michel Sleiman in Paris.

“This post [of president] is for all the Lebanese, but it is also a Christian post. This issue is important for us as the Future Movement. Thus, I believe that Christian party heads and leaders should reconcile, forgive each other and engage in dialogue,” the Future Movement leader continued.

Hariri said he was not in need of promises in order to return to Lebanon, in reference to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s remarks in which he said that he offered to guarantee Hariri’s “political security” in Lebanon at a meeting between the two earlier this year.

“When I decide to come back to Lebanon, God will protect everybody. Maybe Gen. Aoun has clarified what he meant later, but regardless, these remarks were not appropriate and should not have been said either to Saad Hariri or to any other politician in Lebanon,” Hariri said.

Hariri has remained outside Lebanon since April 2011 for security reasons.

He voiced hope that a new president would be elected during the Parliament session scheduled for July 2.

The Future Movement leader said he had exchanged ideas regarding Lebanon with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whom he met in Paris earlier Tuesday.

“God willing, everybody is seeking Lebanon’s best interest,” Hariri said.

Hariri is expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris Thursday.

He met Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt last week and the Al-Markazia news agency reported that the Druze leader was given an appointment with French President Francois Hollande.Meanwhile, visitors of Speaker Nabih Berri quoted him as saying it was necessary to elect a president and energize the work of Cabinet and Parliament.

He made the remarks when asked why he had not called for National Dialogue sessions.

United Nations Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman called on Lebanese leaders to swiftly end the presidential vacuum, which will have lasted exactly a month Wednesday.

“We again underline the urgency for Lebanon’s leaders to ensure the election of a president without further delay and stress the importance for the government meanwhile to discharge its responsibilities effectively,” Feltman said Monday in a briefing to the U.N. Security Council on the situation in the Middle East.

Al-Markazia said Tuesday that during a meeting between Feltman and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s adviser Bouthaina Shaaban in Oslo last week, the U.N. official emphasized that Syria should not impede the election of a president in Lebanon.

But many, such as Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, remain pessimistic about the prospect of electing a new president in the near future.

“We are still at the starting point. In light of the developments I was informed of, unfortunately I see no light at the end of the tunnel we are in,” Geagea said after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki.

The LF leader said a “war of elimination” was being fought against the presidential position in Lebanon.

“The only thing that is being eliminated ... is the presidency, as we have no president,” he said. “Until now, I see no reason for not having a president.”

“I have no answer on why they are disrupting the holding of the presidential election,” Geagea added. “All the pretexts given are neither convincing nor acceptable.”

In an indirect reference to Aoun, Geagea said: “No one has the right to disrupt the country and leave the presidential seat empty for the sake of increasing his chances of becoming a president.”

Parliament has failed to elect a new president during seven sessions held since April 23.

The March 14 coalition has backed Geagea’s nomination for the highest Christian post in the country, but its March 8 rivals have subsequently rejected his candidacy.

Hezbollah and Aoun’s lawmakers have boycotted all but one election session, thus preventing Parliament from achieving quorum.

They argue that they will only attend when an agreement on a candidate is reached ahead of time.

The March 8 coalition has hinted that it supports Aoun for president. The FPM leader has been engaged in talks with Hariri’s Future Movement since January in a bid to win its support for his presidential bid.

Responding to Geagea, MP Ibrahim Kanaan, from Aoun’s bloc, said the LF leader had contributed to weakening the presidential position by supporting the Taif agreement, arguing that the deal had “eliminated” the role of the presidency. Some believe the 1989 peace agreement that ended the Civil War gave more power to the prime minister, traditionally a Sunni, than the president.

“We remind he who accuses us of eliminating it [the presidency], that it was already eliminated in a large settlement to which he was party 24 years ago,” Kanaan said after attending the weekly meeting of the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc.

“Are we really now eliminating it or rather trying to revive it and reclaim it in terms of our rights?” Kanaan asked. “We need a presidency that provides an effective presence for Christians.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 25, 2014, on page 1.




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