Hezbollah: Aoun a consensus candidate
Nov. 14, 2014 |/Hasan Lakkis| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Hezbollah said Thursday it considered Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun a consensus presidential candidate, as the international community pressed the country’s political class to end the nearly six-month vacuum in the top Christian seat.
“[Aoun] has full agency over his decisions and has no foreign agenda … and he heads the largest Christian bloc and he might be the only [real] leader of Christians in Lebanon and the Middle East,” said Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.
Khalil went on to describe Aoun as the “epitome of the patriotic leader.”
“If we want to agree on a person to fill the presidential seat, he should be a man like General Aoun. This is a conviction that we will not change until further notice,” he added.
Khalil spoke following talks with Aoun at his Rabieh residence. Khalil was accompanied by Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s top security official. Also attending the talks was Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law.
The meeting came hours after Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc challenged before the Constitutional Council the extension law endorsed by Parliament last week.
“The challenge has constitutional and national reasons,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan told reporters on his way out of the council’s building.
“As for constitutional reasons, we ask: What does democracy mean? It means elections and transition of power, what remains of democracy if these two values were undermined?” he said.
Last week, Parliament endorsed a law to extend its own mandate for another two years and seven months, after a similar move in 2013, when it renewed its term for 17 months.
Ninety-five out of the 97 MPs attending the session, including those from Hezbollah, voted yes, citing “exceptional circumstances’ resulting from the deteriorating security situation in Tripoli, Arsal and other areas in the country. Lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc and the Kataeb Party boycotted the vote in opposition.
Kanaan dismissed the pretext of Lebanon’s deteriorating security based on which the extension law was passed.
“Where is the destructive war based on which the international law defines exceptional circumstances? Do events in Arsal and Tripoli, where the situation is getting back to normal, amount to a destructive war?”
Khalil described divergent stances between Hezbollah and Aoun over extension of Parliament’s term as a “trivial matter.”
“It indicates that neither we impose our convictions on our allies nor our allies accept that we impose on them our convictions.”
According to a Constitutional expert, if the Constitutional Council accepted the challenge, then the Lebanese government would have to hold elections.
“If the council accepts the challenge after Nov. 20, the day Parliament’s term expires, then the government should hold parliamentary elections within three months in line with Article 25 of the Constitution,” the expert said, requesting to remain anonymous.
Speaking to The Daily Star, the expert added that MPs could file another extension draft law if the challenge was accepted before the expiry of Parliament’s term.
The Constitutional Council has 30 days to look into the challenge, if no decision was made during this period, the extension law will automatically become valid.
Former President Michel Sleiman and Aoun’s bloc challenged the first extension law before the council, but the challenge was not discussed after Shiite and Druze council members, loyal to Speaker Nabih Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt, boycotted its sessions.
In a news conference Wednesday, Issam Suleiman, the head of the council, pledged that the body would meet the quorum this time to discuss the extension law.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said his group’s support for the extension law was not influenced by Saudi Arabia, which he visited last month.
“I did not raise the issue of extension with [Saudi Foreign Minister] Prince Saud al-Faisal, and Saudi officials care the least about whether extension happened,” Geagea told LBCI television station.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday also urged Parliament to swiftly elect a president to boost stability.
The 15-member council “expressed concern at the prolonged vacancy in the office of the presidency with a view to preserving the stability and the unity of Lebanon,” said Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan, whose country chairs the council.
The top U.N. body requested that Parliament moves “without delay” to a vote and said Lebanon’s politicians must show the “flexibility and sense of urgency” needed to agree on a successor to Sleiman.
For his part, U.S Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale reiterated calls for electing a president as soon as possible.
“We have called on Lebanon’s Parliament to elect a president as soon as possible, and in accordance with the country’s Constitution,” Hale said during a speech at the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce.
“The election of a president is a decision entirely for the Lebanese to take, but take it, they must,” the ambassador added.
Hale later repeated the same calls after visiting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, also urging Lebanese leaders to hold parliamentary elections as soon as possible after the “regrettable, recent decision to postpone parliamentary elections and extend the term of the current Parliament again.”