Hariri decides: No to Aoun in Baabda – Lebanon’s presidential election postponed to May 7

Lebanese member of parliament Michel Aoun holds a press conference following a parliament session to vote for the new Lebanese president in the parliament building in downtown Beirut on April 23, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Joseph Eid)

The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc announced their support for Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea’s presidential bid on Tuesday, while former Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) ministers Gebran Bassil and Elias Abou Saab in Paris. The bloc’s position could be a matter of courtesy between the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces. However, based on previous relations between the two allies and leaked information from the Paris meeting, it could now be said for certain that the rapprochement between Future Movement leader Saad Hariri and head of the FPM, MP Michel Aoun, has reached a dead end concerning the presidency.

This is not merely speculation. March 14 officials, particularly from the Future Movement, have been voicing that the their decision is final. Sources from March 14 indicated that Hariri told his allies and several of his assistants that he made up his mind about the presidency and he will not be choosing Michel Aoun for the position. According to the same sources, Hariri made sure he informed his allies prior to his meeting with Bassil, maintaining that he will proceed with dialogue with Aoun, but not on the basis of choosing him as president.

Certain Future Movement officials were intent on publishing this information, adding that Hariri reassured his allies that he will not be betraying the coalition. Parliamentary sources close to Hariri linked this position with two issues: the Saudi rejection of Aoun being chosen as president, and Bassil’s recent visit to Moscow and his talks about oil, gas, and weapons for the army with the Russians.

The sources indicated that negotiations between the FPM and the Future Movement concerning oil and gas “have reached a dead end.” They also revealed that Hariri was annoyed with the “conference held by Bassil in Russia with its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, especially when he asked Russia to buy oil and gas from Lebanon,” saying that “oil and gas are not cooking oil, you cannot just ask anyone to buy them.” According to the same sources, Hariri was bothered by “Bassil’s statements in Russia about the possibility of sending aid to the Lebanese army.”

  When the picture becomes clearer, contacts will be between the Future Movement and Hezbollah directly, without the need for a middleman.

The sources also maintained that the “US-Iran rapprochement is in its final stages, which should reflect positively on the entire region, including the relationship with Hezbollah.” They indicated that “when the picture becomes clearer, contacts will be between the Future Movement and Hezbollah directly, without the need for a middleman.”

On the other hand, FPM sources expressed surprise about the rumors of Hariri’s backtracking on his amiable stance concerning Aoun’s presidential bid. “The meeting between Hariri and Bassil in Paris yesterday, lasting for five hours, refutes all those unfounded leaks,” the FPM sources explained. “It is Fouad Siniora’s people inside the Future Movement who are spreading such harmful rumors. He is the only one who is not happy with the rapprochement.” This is verified by “recent statements by his close MPs.”

“The FPM has never said that the rapprochement will lead to the election of General Aoun as president,” the sources continued. “We said earlier that the contacts are related to several internal issues.” They indicated that ” some Future Movement partisans are sending a message to Saad Hariri.”

On the eve of the second parliamentary session to elect a new president, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri announced that his bloc will be present and will not participate in attempts to create a lack of quorum, like he promised before the April 23 session. “The Development and Liberation Bloc will be the first to attend and the last to leave the session,” Berri announced and said he will wait for 30 minutes for the quorum before adjourning the session to a later date.

Although he did not set the next date, awaiting what might be emerging in today’s session, Berri said that he had two prospective dates for two other sessions. However, if their quorum is not met, he will not sit idly and merely set new dates. He will act according to his responsibilities as the speaker of parliament to find an exit from the looming crisis. However, Berri did not hide his concerns about a continuous lack of quorum until the country gets close to May 25, the constitutional deadline to elect a president.

“Currently, available data indicates a lack of consensus regarding the new president. Thus the quorum of two-thirds will not be reached,” Berri explained. He maintained that he was not aware of the details of the Paris meetings between Hariri and Bassil. “If it is positive or they agreed on something, it will take some time for it to translate onto the political scene while both sides deal with the agreement with their respective allies. But nothing is tangible yet. If an agreement was reached, the president will be elected in two days at most.”

Does he see external action concerning the issue? “I had informed the ambassadors I met about the need to safeguard the Lebanese aspect, which I am sticking to, and some of the external positions I get directly or indirectly through ambassadors confirm this direction,” Berri explained. “For example, the Americans told me their position on the Lebanese presidential elections. They said they will not pick one candidate over the other, that they will not veto anyone, and they want the elections to be on time.”

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

 

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