BEIRUT: Kataeb Party MP Elie Marouni is meeting rival MPs from Hezbollah as part of efforts to end the presidential vacuum, the lawmaker said Tuesday, while confirming that his group’s leader Amine Gemayel was considering running for president as a consensus candidate. “Several meetings have taken place on the parliamentary level during which we discussed hastening the election of a president for Lebanon,” Marouni said during an interview with The Daily Star at his office in Parliament. “We are making use of our presence in Parliament during this period to get closer to all political parties,” Marouni added.
While acknowledging differences between the Kataeb and Hezbollah over the latter’s arsenal and the party’s involvement in the Syria war, Marouni said this did not deny the fact that Hezbollah was a major political party in Lebanon.
“We cannot solve problems without meeting,” Marouni said.
Marouni added that meetings between Kataeb lawmakers and their colleagues from Hezbollah began more than a year ago, when the Kataeb approached the group to explain its draft law to amend the Constitution, which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts.
The official has his own opinion regarding the debate over the repercussions of Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria. “There is a point of view which states that if it hadn’t been for Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, ISIS would have overrun Lebanon by now, and another one saying that if Hezbollah did not intervene [in Syria] in the first place, ISIS would not have [interfered in] Lebanon,” Marouni said. “But I have my own opinion: Hezbollah did step in to push ISIS away, but [the group] reached the country eventually.
“This means their [Hezbollah] intervention was useless.”
Marouni explained that a neutral stance from regional and international conflicts was the best means to protect Lebanon.
“Our experience from 1975 up until today has proven that involvement in regional crises has undermined Lebanon and caused death and displacement. We believe that neutrality is the only cure for Lebanon now. There is this saying: ‘If people in Egypt catch a flu, we sneeze in Lebanon’ ... We are paying the price of all these regional conflicts at the time when our country is qualified to be an arena of harmony and deliver a message of coexistence between monotheistic religions,” he said.
For Marouni, the best way to confront ISIS was through reviving state institutions and giving the Lebanese Army full authority to deal with the threat of terrorist groups.
“First and foremost a president must be elected. A new [parliamentary] electoral law passed, parliamentary polls held and a new national unity government formed,” he said. “These institutions would allow the Army to act decisively and we should all work on providing the military with equipment and recruits.”
Hailing from the Bekaa Valley city of Zahle, Marouni strongly opposes private security to confront ISIS attacks. The Bekaa Valley has been subject to repetitive attacks by the group in recent months.
In August, militants from ISIS and the Nusra Front briefly occupied the northeastern border town of Arsal and the Nusra Front attacked the outskirts of the village of Brital earlier this month. Syrian rebels have also launched dozens of rockets on Bekaa Valley villages associated with Hezbollah over the past year.
“We in the March 14 coalition have stated our stance: We should confront this danger by further embracing legitimate Lebanese security services ... We do not want illegitimate arms to proliferate. Self-imposed security leads nowhere ... it deepens inter-Lebanese disputes,” Marouni said.
He also reiterated demands by the March 14 coalition to widen the scope of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 through deploying U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon to control the border with Syria.
Marouni said that the Kataeb bloc would not attend an imminent Parliament session to extend the legislature’s before its term expires on Nov. 20. “We might not attend the session. But we will not challenge the extension [before the Constitutional Council] and we will not oppose extension if it happens,” he said.
While noting that the Kataeb supported holding parliamentary elections on time, he said that the Interior Ministry had announced that elections could not be held due to deteriorating security.
“I ask how can we have elections? Besides our stance in principle [which favors holding elections], we need to be realistic,” Marouni said.
He said that as part of the March 14 coalition’s initiative to break the deadlock over the presidential election, Gemayel was mulling running for the top Christian post as a consensus candidate.
“Former President Gemayel is among the figures that are able to communicate with all parties,” Marouni said.
The March 14 alliance voiced its readiness last month to reach with March 8 rivals an agreement on a consensus presidential candidate other than Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea.
“Former President Amine Gemayel has all the qualifications and experience required for being a president. He is studying when to announce his candidacy,” he said
“We are contacting various political groups. Once we realize that March 8 parties will achieve quorum [during the session to elect a president], former President Gemayel will announce his candidacy.”