BEIRUT: A Free Patriotic Movement delegation met Monday with key Christian leaders, including Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, in a bid to promote FPM chief Michel Aoun’s latest initiative to break the yearlong presidential vacuum amid difficulties facing the initiative.
Rai told the FPM MPs that any initiative that facilitates the election of a president is worthy of discussion.
The delegation, including MPs Ibrahim Kanaan, Naamatallah Abi Nasser, Alain Aoun and Salim Salhab, handed a copy of the FPM leader’s proposals to Rai. In addition to the patriarch, the delegation also met with Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel.
Describing the visit to Rai as “constructive and positive,” Kanaan told reporters after the meeting in Bkirki, north of Beirut, “We have agreed with him [Rai] to consider this initiative as serious and worthy of discussion. Gen. Aoun’s initiative is based on a return to the people. ... We are in an exceptional situation and this requires exceptional political and national solutions.”
A member of the delegation described the Christian parties’ response to Aoun’s initiative as “positive,” saying that “the Christians cannot reject what we propose to them in a rude manner.” However, he said he did not expect other political parties, particularly the Future Movement, to support Aoun’s initiative.
He said the possibility of the FPM’s ministers suspending their participation in Cabinet sessions is big “unless we get convincing responses over the appointment of security commanders by the Cabinet.”
Kanaan tackled the criticism that the initiative sparked from political rivals and Prime Minister Tammam Salam, who warned against attempts to change the Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War and shifted some of the Maronite president’s prerogatives to the Cabinet.
“Respecting the will of Christians in a sectarian and pluralistic system is not a violation of the Constitution, but rather a fortification of the Constitution, [sectarian] coexistence and all the pillars of the National Pact on which the system is founded,” he said.
Kanaan said the talks with Rai focused on achieving “national partnership” between Muslims and Christians. He said the processes by which Aoun’s proposals can see the light were discussed with Rai.
“The climate was positive. Rai encourages whatever [solution] that could lead to breaking this deadlock, particularly at the presidential level and other issues that concern the Christians, including an electoral law and parliamentary elections that ensure real, genuine national Muslim-Christian partnership,” he said.
Kanaan stressed that three of Aoun’s four proposals to break the presidential stalemate do not need an amendment of the Constitution.
Aoun’s proposal, announced at a news conference Friday, provided four options to solve the presidential crisis.
The first option, which had already been proposed by Aoun last year, states that a president could be elected directly by the people in two rounds of voting, first by Christians, and then by all Lebanese.
This option would require an amendment to the Constitution, which states that Parliament is responsible for electing a president.
When Aoun proposed last year the election of a president directly by the people as a means of ending the presidential vacuum, his suggestion quickly came under fire by the Future Movement and its March 14 allies, who argued that such a proposal requires a constitutional amendment.
Aoun’s second option would be to hold a popular referendum to know who among the presidential candidates enjoys the most support. The winner would then be elected president by Parliament.
Kanaan explained Monday that the referendum would be held in two phases, first for Christians, and then for all Lebanese. This option is essentially the same as the first option, but would not require a constitutional amendment since Parliament would still technically be responsible for electing the president.
The third possibility would be to allow Parliament to hold an election in which one of two of its most popular Maronite MPs would stand as candidates.
As for the fourth, which Aoun described as a “constitutional solution” as opposed to the three first “compromises,” it suggests that a new Parliament is elected based on a new electoral law that is more representative of the people, and then lawmakers would in turn choose a president.
The new electoral law should prioritize “equality between Muslims and Christians according to the Constitution and the National Pact,” he specified.
MP Marwan Hamadeh, a member of MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, dismissed Aoun’s proposals, saying they were meant to obstruct the election of a president. “No amendment of the Constitution [can be made] in the absence of a president,” Hamadeh told reporters after meeting Geagea at the latter’s residence in Maarab.
Future MP Ahmad Fatfat also played down Aoun’s initiative. “A solution [to the presidential crisis] can be attained through national initiatives, by going [to Parliament] to elect a president, forming a Cabinet and later approving an electoral law and holding parliamentary elections,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
Kanaan emphasized that any of the solutions can only be adopted after consensus between Christian parties. He said Parliament had lost the “popular legitimacy” by extending its own mandate twice, suggesting a “return to the people” by “asking the Christians what they want.”
Following their meeting with Geagea, Kanaan said: “The Lebanese Forces are open to all suggestions, and we will build on that in our meetings with other blocs.”
“Very important solutions to the presidency crisis were proposed today that will not require a change in the Constitution. On the contrary, they focus on reforming the current situation in constitutional institutions in order to return to the path of the Constitution and the National Accord Document [Taif Accord], which has been marred by big flaws since the previous stage,” he added.
After talks with Gemayel, Kanaan said: “The purpose is to elect a president, enhance the role of Christians in the system, and enact a fair electoral law. In other words, the partnership has been lost, and we want to bring it back.”
The FPM delegation is scheduled to meet Tuesday with parliamentary blocs of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement and Marada Movementleader MP Sleiman Frangieh.