Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanon’s Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri admitted he was holding talks with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to break the country’s presidential deadlock on Tuesday, but refused to give details of the initiative. Jumblatt has traditionally played the role of kingmaker in Lebanon’s complex political system, with both the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance and the Future Movement-led March 14 Alliance backing rival candidates for the presidency.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Berri confirmed that “something” is being done to resolve the three-month deadlock in electing a new Lebanese president, but said he would not give further details of his talks with Jumblatt “until the picture became clearer.”
“With every day that passes [without a solution], the presidential crisis becomes more complicated,” Berri said.
Lebanon’s presidency has been vacant since Michel Suleiman’s term expired on May 25. Since then, Lebanon’s political parties have been unable to agree on a single candidate to fill the role, leaving parliament unable to elect a new head of state. The March 8 Alliance continues to back Michel Aoun for the position, while the March 14 Alliance is backing Samir Geagea.
In the Lebanese political system, senior posts are allocated by sect, with the presidency reserved for a member of the country’s Christian community, the premiership for a Sunni Muslim, and the post of speaker of parliament for a Shi’ite.
Berri’s comments come as the Future Movement snubbed calls from the March 8 Alliance to reactivate the National Dialogue on Tuesday. During an interview with the Voice of Lebanon radio station, Future Movement MP Ammar Al-Houri said that dialogue would be senseless while the two opposing political camps refused to discuss the main points of contention.
Commenting on the Jumblatt–Berri bid to break the presidential statement, Houri said there was no clear initiative for the March 14 and March 8 alliances to agree on a compromise candidate for president.
“A short while ago Jumblatt started a tour of [visits to] political leaders for the sake of consultation, but until this hour there is no detailed proposal or initiative,” Houri said.
Meanwhile, MP Sethrida Geagea, wife of presidential candidate Samir Geagea, called on Jumblatt to “abandon anything which causes sensitivities and raises negative feelings.”
In a statement issued on Monday, Sethrida Geagea said: “Walid Jumblatt was right when he said the president was not only for Christians, but he failed to note that the [posts of] prime minister and speaker of parliament were not only for Sunnis and Shi’ites.”
She called for more consultation between Lebanon’s divided political blocs. “Will Jumblatt agree for Samir Geagea to negotiate with Nabih Berri on the issue of Druze parliamentary seats; or for him to negotiate with Geagea on the prime minister’s post without Saad Al-Hariri?”
Berri, speaking during a meeting with the representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, highlighted the importance of Lebanese lawmakers choosing a new president as soon as possible. “The president is the symbol of the unity of the country,” he said.
“The process and choice of a president is reserved for the Lebanese, but Lebanon’s leaders must swiftly create the conditions to elect a president, for the sake of Lebanon’s unity and stability,” he added.