AMIOUN, Lebanon: Every day that passes without a political consensus over the next president of Lebanon boosts Samir Geagea’s chances of taking the top Christian post, a lawmaker from the Lebanese Forces leader’s bloc said Tuesday.
“Maybe it is surprising to say this. But judging by how things are going, the chances of Geagea [becoming a president] will get even higher,” MP Fadi Karam told The Daily Star in an interview at his office in the Koura town of Amioun.
“The more the other side is convinced that it will not be able to force us to agree on its presidential candidate before holding the election, the higher chances there are that a democratic competition will take place.”
A prominent March 14 figure and leader of the Lebanese Forces, Geagea announced his candidacy in spring. However, he received only 48 votes during the first voting session April 23, in which no candidate won the two-thirds majority required for that stage.
However, Karam revealed the March 14 coalition did not mobilize all its votes back then, saying that some March 14 lawmakers were outside the country. “It was well known that a president would not be elected during that session,” he said.
“We believe that Geagea will have higher chances with time and get more votes.”
The 10 sessions held since have been unable to convene due to a lack of quorum caused by the absence of most of March 8 MPs, who insist on not showing up until a prior agreement is reached on a consensus president.
March 8 lawmakers back Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, a fierce rival of Geagea, for the presidency.
In a bid to break the deadlock that Lebanese politicians have been in since the presidential vacuum began May 25, the March 14 coalition voiced its readiness earlier this month to agree with its March 8 rivals on a consensus candidate other than the two current options, a stance that has been backed by Geagea but not Aoun.
“We are leaving a chance for an agreement with the other side because they are thwarting the quorum,” Karam said.
Commenting on a proposal by Aoun to amend the Constitution and allow the president to be directly elected by people, Karam said it would only lead to the same two current candidates competing in a more public way.
Under the proposed amendment, the president would be elected in two rounds of direct voting by the electorate. In the first round, only Christians would vote. But in the second round the whole electorate, both Muslims and Christians, would choose from whichever two candidates scored the highest in the first round.
“Why don’t they [March 8] just go to Parliament and elect a president now?” Karam said.
Although he submitted his candidacy, the MP said he believed that parliamentary elections, scheduled for November, were unlikely to be held on time, something the party is unhappy about.
“The principles of the Lebanese Forces stipulate that extension [of Parliament’s term] is inappropriate,” Karam said. “Parliament can only get legitimacy from its people.”
But Karam said that numerous remarks by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who has repeatedly said the poor security situation will not permit polls to be held on time, indicated that the current election schedule was unlikely to be kept to. “Still, we will oppose an extension.”
Karam said that the Lebanese Forces did not regret its decision not to join Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s national unity government that was formed in February.
“The Lebanese Forces’ opinion was that such Cabinets will not build a state or a nation. We said that a government should have a clear policy,” Karam said. He explained that the government’s policy statement was vague, particularly on whether it still legitimized Hezbollah’s arms through the tripartite “Army, people and resistance.”
“Hezbollah, which is a party in the government, carries on with its policy, while the March 14 coalition, also present in this government, considers that the tripartite formula was eradicated. Let someone explain to me, does it still exist or not?” However, Karam said the government was working hard to prevent the situation in Lebanon from exploding.
As for rising fears of the threat posed by extremist group ISIS, Karam stressed that the Lebanese Forces was not resorting to private security to protect Christians in areas where it has strong presence.
He said that if parties started to adopt this, it would eventually lead to the explosion of the situation in the country.
“Thank God, the Lebanese Army is intact ... and is protecting everybody,” he said.