Future links Hezbollah talks to facilitating presidential vote


Future links Hezbollah talks to facilitating presidential vote
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/Nov. 25, 2014

BEIRUT: Hezbollah should facilitate the election of a new president if a long-awaited dialogue with the Future Movement is to get started, a Future lawmaker said Monday, pouring cold water on Speaker Nabih Berri’s optimism that talks between the two rival parties would be held without preset conditions.

“Hezbollah must facilitate the presidential election in order for dialogue with the Future Movement to get off the ground,” Future MP Ghazi Youssef told The Daily Star.

Although efforts have been stepped up to bring the Future Movement and Hezbollah to the negotiating table, Youssef said a mechanism to unleash the dialogue between the influential Sunni and Shiite parties has not yet been put on track.

Asked to comment on Berri’s enduring optimism about launching a dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, whose strained ties have stoked political and sectarian tensions in the country, Youssef said: “I hope Speaker Berri’s optimism will be justified.”

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the Future Movement should take time to prepare for dialogue with Hezbollah.

“We cannot say whether progress has been made in this respect,” he told As-Safir newspaper, adding that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was expected to give some indication during an interview with LBCI TV Thursday as to the steps to be taken toward dialogue.

Asked whether the Future Movement had preconditions for a dialogue with Hezbollah, Siniora said: “At least, the rules of dialogue should be outlined.”

A March 8 source said preparations to start the Hezbollah-Future dialogue were on the “right track.”

On whether Hezbollah is ready to facilitate the presidential vote as demanded by the Future Movement, the source told The Daily Star: “If intentions are good and the atmosphere is positive, Hezbollah is ready to discuss all divisive issues.”

The source said he did not feel that the Future Movement was setting preconditions for a dialogue with Hezbollah.

Berri, who said he has been working with MP Walid Jumblatt to promote a dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, was quoted by visitors Sunday as saying the planned dialogue would be held without preconditions. He added that efforts were underway to prepare the dialogue’s agenda.

The Future Movement and its March 14 allies have accused Hezbollah and its key Christian ally, MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, of derailing the presidential polls by thwarting a quorum with their persistent boycott of Parliament sessions to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25.

Parliament failed this month for the 15th time since April to elect a president over a lack of quorum, as the rival March 8 and March 14 parties remain at loggerheads over a consensus candidate. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish, one of two Hezbollah representatives in the Cabinet, said efforts were underway by “allies and friends,” a clear allusion to Berri and Jumblatt, to get the Future-Hezbollah dialogue started.

Asked whether Hezbollah was ready to discuss the presidential deadlock with the Future Movement, Fneish told The Daily Star: “We will be open in the dialogue to discuss how to enhance the points of agreement and boost the country’s security and stability in the face of threats. We will not set conditions for dialogue and we hope the other side will do the same.”

As to when the planned dialogue could begin, Fneish said this depended on the outcome of ongoing efforts to agree on the details and agenda of talks.

Fneish refused to comment on reports that Hezbollah was not ready to discuss two key contentious issues with the Future Movement: the party’s military intervention in the war in Syria and the presidential election.

Hezbollah MP Kamel Rifai said a dialogue with the Future Movement would help defuse sectarian tensions.

In an interview with Akhbar al-Yom news agency, Rifai said March 14 demands for Hezbollah’s disarmament and the party’s withdrawal from Syria were divisive issues that could not be settled quickly during the dialogue with the Future Movement. “Therefore, they should be put aside in this stage,” he said.

“No doubt, a dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah can put Lebanon on the road to a solution,” Rifai added.

In an interview with the Voice of Lebanon radio station, Future MP Hadi Hobeish said the planned dialogue with Hezbollah would concentrate on “priority to the presidential election and strengthening security in the country.”

Future MP Ammar Houri said what spurred his party to accept a dialogue with Hezbollah was the “vacancy in the presidency post and the spiraling sectarian tension.”

“The election of a new president is the gateway to a solution to reactivate constitutional institutions, to ensuring stability and to solving all other problems,” Houri said in an interview with Al-Fajer radio station.

He added that any decision to enter into dialogue with Hezbollah has not been taken before Hariri’s TV interview. Houri said Hariri would announce during the interview a road map to resolve outstanding problems in the country.

A thaw between the Future Movement and Hezbollah is deemed crucial for any solution to the deepening political crisis. A long-simmering political feud, exacerbated by Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria, had erupted into street violence between supporters of the two parties in the past.

Meanwhile, the FPM denounced Parliament after the extension of its mandate as “illegitimate,” calling on the Constitutional Council to accept the FPM’s appeal filed earlier this month against the extension.

“The legitimacy of Parliament, whose term has been extended for a second time, has been lost as a result of the extension and the failure over a quarter of a century to adopt an electoral law to achieve equal power sharing [between Muslims and Christians],” MP Ibrahim Kanaan said, reading a statement after an extraordinary meeting of Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc ahead of the Constitutional Council’s decision on the challenge.

He said the FPM would continue following up on the challenge against the extension of Parliament’s mandate for two years and seven months.

The bloc urged the council’s 10 judges to take “a historic stand to put an end to the series of attacks on the Constitution and [attempts] to destroy the parliamentary democratic system.”