The Daily Star (Lebanon)
Frangieh emerges as strong presidential candidate
Zghorta MP’s nomination gains local, regional and international backing
BEIRUT: MP Sleiman Frangieh has emerged as the favorite candidate to fill the vacant presidency seat following his reported meeting with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, amid signs of regional and international support for the Marada Movement leader’s presidential bid.
Local TV stations said Wednesday night Frangieh’s candidacy for the country’s top Christian post, made vacant by Parliament’s failure to choose a president since former President Michel Sleiman’s term ended on May 24, 2014, has gained American, French and Saudi backing, boosting chances for the Zghorta MP’s election.
Emerging from a new round of national dialogue Wednesday, a seemingly relaxed Frangieh confirmed that Hariri has launched an initiative to break the 18-monthlong presidential deadlock, though he refused to deny or confirm his reported meeting with the leader of the Future Movement in Paris.
“We are facing behind-the-scene proposals [over the presidency]. I will not say more. We consider every proposal that comes to us as serious. We trust the other [March 14] side and its proposals,” Frangieh told reporters after attending the 11th dialogue session held at Speaker Nabih Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh.
He said that proposing his name for the presidency was serious but not official yet.
“What I can confirm is that this proposal is serious but unofficial. When it becomes official, we will then act accordingly,” he said.
Declaring that Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, who did not attend the dialogue session, is still the March 8 coalition’s primary presidential candidate, Frangieh said: “But if the other [March 14] side makes a new proposal [to end the presidential vacuum], we will wait for the official proposal and we will deal with it then.”
He denied that the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc has proposed him as its candidate for the presidency instead of Aoun.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and party lawmakers have repeatedly declared that Aoun is the group’s sole candidate for the presidency. “The March 14 team, perhaps [based on an initiative] from [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri, is working on a new proposal,” Frangieh said. “There is nothing official yet. ... We will deal with the issue when the proposal is put forward.”
Asked if his candidacy has gained support from regional powers, Frangieh said: “We are still at the beginning of the road. We are hearing support from some places and nonrejection from other places. But I want to stress that there’s nothing official.”
He admitted that by virtue of his alliance with Aoun, Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar Assad, he cannot be considered a consensual candidate from outside the March 8 and March 14 camps. “Our position is known,” he said.
Frangieh, a major figure in the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, also dismissed rumors that his ties with Aoun were strained by his potential candidacy.
“We speak one language in this issue [presidency] with Gen. Aoun and we are constantly in contact with him,” he said.
Media reports emerged over the weekend that Hariri held a rare meeting with Frangieh in Paris earlier this month as part of Hariri’s drive to break the presidential impasse. However, officials from both sides have denied any such meeting took place.
Hariri’s drive was in line with a call issued by Nasrallah earlier this month for an all-embracing settlement on key issues, such as the presidency, the government and a new electoral law.
In welcoming Nasrallah’s call for an all-inclusive political settlement on key issues, Hariri stressed that the presidential election is the key to such a settlement.
So far, Berri, Hezbollah, Aoun, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party have kept silent on Frangieh’s soaring presidential chances.
Frangieh held a private meeting with Berri at Ain al-Tineh before the start of the dialogue session. No details emerged from the meeting.
At the end of the dialogue session, some March 14 leaders, including former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Deputy Parliament Speaker Farid Makari and Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb, also held a private meeting to discuss the
presidential crisis. The meeting was also attended by Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
Asked if Frangieh has now become the March 14 candidate, Siniora told reporters: “Let’s hope for the best, God willing.”
The March 14 coalition has supported LF chief Samir Geagea as its candidate against Aoun.
Metn MP Michel Murr, who attended the dialogue session, sounded upbeat about the election of president. “Lebanon will soon have a president,” he said.
Although the presidency is the first and main topic on the dialogue agenda, rival leaders said the talks focused on ways to reactivate the government’s work, signaling that the presidential issue is being tackled elsewhere.
Wednesday’s session ended after less than two hours, making it the shortest session since the talks were launched in September. Berri set a new session for Dec. 14.
Speaking during the dialogue session, Berri underlined the need for getting the stalled government functioning, renewing his call for a quick solution to the 4-month-old trash crisis.
Salam has vowed not to call for a Cabinet session before an agreement is reached beforehand by rival factions on a solution to the garbage crisis.
During last week’s talks, the leaders made headway by supporting a proposal to export thousands of tons of garbage to end the waste crisis. But most of those agreements appear to be more symbolic than practical, and the garbage crisis is still nowhere near being solved.
Aoun, who did not attend the dialogue, was represented by MP Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of Aoun’s bloc. The reason for Aoun’s absence was unknown. MP Walid Jumblatt left before the end of the talks, citing “personal reasons.” Kataeb Party leader MP Sami Gemayel has been boycotting recent dialogue sessions over the government’s failure to solve the waste crisis. Kataeb lawmakers have also boycotted two legislative sessions this month which Gemayel said were unconstitutional due to the absence of a president.