Lebanese parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is unlikely to call the legislature to convene to elect a new president given the lack of “real competition” that would yield a result from a vote.
Lebanon has held eleven sessions to elect a president. The country’s top post has been vacant since late October and political rivals have since then been squabbling over a candidate.
A western diplomatic source told Asharq Al-Awsat that regional and international powers “don’t mind” the election of former minister Suleiman Franjieh, but their patience has an “expiration date”.
Lebanese officials have been informed by the powers that the Arab and international community “doesn't mind” the election of any figure, including Franjieh, but that the election should be done within a deadline.
There is a pressing need to elect a president given the dire state of affairs in Lebanon, they went on to say. They also cited the instability on the international scene, which makes Lebanon the least of concerns for global powers if Lebanese officials don’t seize the initiative and reach an agreement over a president.
Such an agreement is a priority, but so is the need for Lebanon to launch real reforms that would restore the international community’s trust in the country.
The new president must be able to kick off the reform process, said the source.
The patience the international community has shown may end if the local powers continue to stumble in electing a president, it warned.
An agreement over a candidate appears unlikely given the “sectarian vetoes” over the two current nominees: Franjieh and former minister Jihad Azour. If the dispute persists, then Lebanese officials are better off coming up with a third candidate that is accepted by all parties.
Berri told Asharq Al-Awsat that he had received no information about any “expiration date”, stressing that he will not call for a parliament session to elect a president knowing that it would end in failure like the eleven others.
The speaker had previously underlined the need to elect a president before June 15, before the term of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh ends in July. Failure to elect a president by then will lead to monetary instability in Lebanon, he warned.
Berri added that he wants the election of a president as soon as possible, but at the same time, he refuses to call for an electoral session that would end in failure.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah, which backs Franjieh’s nomination, has continued its attack on the opposition and its possible agreement on Azour as a presidential candidate.
Hezbollah deputy secretary general Sheikh Naim Qassem said a “national Christian president is a better option for Lebanon than a president coming from a sectarian background.”
“Abandon petty interests and let’s elect a free president who would save the country and would not be hostage to those who elected him,” he tweeted.
Head of the Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel criticized Qassem’s statement, saying: “Does this mean we have to either agree to your challenging candidate or always succumb to your dictates?”
“Don’t you have any other options besides destructive ones? Your confusion is both laughable and lamentable,” he tweeted.