|26 September, 2016

Hariri returns but presidency breakthrough still unlikely

Return to Beirut is expected to revive efforts over presidential crisis

Former Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri is seen at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague J. To match INTERVIEW LEBANON-GOVERNMENT/HARIRI REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters

Former Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri is seen at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague J. To match INTERVIEW LEBANON-GOVERNMENT/HARIRI REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters

REUTERS/Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters

26 September 2016

BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s return to Beirut is expected to move efforts over the presidential crisis into high gear, but any breakthrough in the deadlock has been ruled out before this week’s election session in Parliament, officials said Sunday. “I don’t see anything new in the presidential election issue. There are no new developments and the situation has not changed,” Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying by visitors at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

Hariri, who arrived in Lebanon Saturday night after spending nearly two months abroad, is set to begin consultations with a number of politicians Monday, centering on ways to break the presidential stalemate that has entered its third year with no solution in sight.

Hariri’s return comes ahead of a Parliament session set for Wednesday to try to elect a president to succeed former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended in May 2014.

However, the Parliament session, the 45th attempt in more than two years to elect a president, is destined to fail like the previous ones over a lack of quorum, as the rival March 8 and March 14 camps remain sharply split over who should be president.

“I don’t expect any breakthrough in the presidential crisis at Wednesday’s Parliament session. The deadlock will go on,” former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star, indicating that Parliament will not be able to convene to elect a president due to a lack of quorum amid the expected boycott by lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah’s bloc and some of its March 8 allies.

Siniora, head of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, said Hariri and members of the bloc will attend the Parliament session.

Siniora signaled that the idea of “a consensual candidate” excluding the two leading rival candidates for the presidency, Aoun and Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Frangieh, is on the cards as a means to end the vacuum.

“I and Deputy Parliament Speaker Farid Makari have proposed during national dialogue sessions the idea of a consensual candidate as the two candidates [Aoun and Frangieh] have failed to resolve the presidential crisis,” Siniora said. “But there was no positive response from [Hezbollah] MP Mohammad Raad,” he added.

Future MP Atef Majdalani underlined the need to reach agreement on “a consensual president,” saying that Aoun could not be such a president because of his alliance with Hezbollah. “The dialogue and contacts held between the Future Movement and the FPM were aimed at reaching common ground and joint opinions on a consensual president for the country,” Madjalani said in an interview with a local TV station. “MP Michel Aoun is not a consensual candidate because he represents a certain party which poses a challenge and provocation to many Lebanese,” he added, in a clear allusion to Hezbollah.

The Future bloc last week staunchly rejected separate calls by Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces to elect Aoun as president as the only way to end the presidential vacancy and avert street protests threatened by the Free Patriotic Movement over alleged marginalization of Christians in the government.

The bloc reaffirmed its commitment to supporting Frangieh, who is backed by Berri, Hariri, MP Walid Jumblatt and some independent lawmakers. Frangieh’s opponent Aoun is supported by Hezbollah, some of its March 8 allies and the LF.

Berri reiterated his position that a “full-package” deal, which includes the election of a president, an agreement on an electoral law and the shape the government is the only solution to the deadlock.

“We must reach [a series of] understandings in advance. My candidate for the presidency is the package. My candidate is [a series of] understandings in advance on the president, the government and its prime minister, and an electoral law according to the [national] dialogue agenda,” Berri was quoted as saying.

“If we don’t reach these understandings, there are some who call for the election of a president in isolation of them,” he said. “But if we elect a president [without these understandings], this means we will crucify him,” he added, implying that the elected president would have to grapple with the rival parties’ rifts over the formation of a new government and a new vote system.

Berri renewed his call for a “fair” voting system to replace the controversial 1960 law, which was used in the 2009 elections. He accused some parties, whom he did not name, of publicly rejecting the 1960 law, while working for it behind the scenes by blocking attempts to reach a new vote system.

Former Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli , who backs Aoun for president, said he hoped Hariri’s return to Beirut would revive attempts to break the presidential deadlock.

“It’s time for the presidency file to be revived,” he told a local radio station. “I hope Hariri’s return to Lebanon will carry the desired outcome by adopting MP Michel Aoun’s candidacy for the presidency which resulted from the contacts between the Future Movement and the FPM,” Ferzli said.

Aoun has been counting on support from Hariri to boost his chances for being elected as president. A number of lawmakers from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc have said that the FPM was still waiting for a final response from Hariri to the ongoing negotiations between the FPM and the Future Movement over the presidency issue.

The LF reiterated its support for Aoun, saying that Lebanon faced two options: election of Aoun as president or a prolonged power vacuum.

“Regardless of our support for Aoun, the choices are either to elect the latter, or the continuation of a vacuum until further notice,” LF deputy chief MP George Adwan told a local radio station Saturday. He urged rivals to exert all efforts in order to avert any action that could lead to the destabilization the country.

For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai lamented that the failure of Lebanese politicians to elect a president is effectively allowing foreign powers to make the decision for them. “The Lebanese [politicians] have given up on their role in electing a president, because they’ve let [countries] abroad decide for them,” Rai said during a mass held in the eastern town of Ferzol.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2016.

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