Beirut and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—A proposal by the head of the Lebanese parliament’s Democratic Gathering bloc, Walid Jumblatt, to end Lebanon’s presidential deadlock failed on Tuesday.
Jumblatt said he was willing to withdraw his party’s presidential candidate if the other parties agreed to do the same, in order to find a solution to the presidential vacuum.
After rival parties rejected the offer, he said on Wednesday he would continue to back his bloc’s candidate, MP Henry Helou.
Beirut’s Daily Star quoted Jumblatt as saying: “It is not accurate that the party is willing to withdraw its nomination of MP Henry Helou, particularly at a time when the local and regional events prove day by day the need to stick to such a candidate because he could represent the only end to the deadlock amid such sharp divisions.”
The Lebanese presidency has been vacant since the end of May, when ex-president Michel Suleiman’s term expired. Since then, Lebanese politicians have been unable to agree on a new head of state in several parliamentary sessions.
Under the country’s confessional political system, the presidency is traditionally reserved for a member of the Maronite Christian community, but Lebanon’s Christian parties have been split between rival blocs and cannot agree on a single candidate acceptable to other parties.
The March 14 Alliance backs the leader of the Lebanese Forces Party, Samir Geagea, while the March 8 Alliance—which includes Hezbollah—backs Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement, though he has yet to officially declare his candidacy.
Druze leader Jumblatt’s political bloc is not part of either alliance—thus Jumblatt is known as the “kingmaker” in Lebanese politics, as his bloc’s support could be decisive in the election of a president.
Rami El-Rayyis, the spokesman for Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the responses to Jumblatt’s offer from the parties of the two leading rivals for the job were not positive.
“The insistence on the current nominations and the search for excuses to avoid the main presidential issue is no longer convenient,” Rayyis said, adding: “If the presidential vacuum lasts too long, it will worsen the Lebanese crisis at all levels.”
Ali Khrais, an MP with the Development a Liberation bloc, which is part of the March 8 Alliance, told Asharq Al-Awsat he hoped Jumblatt’s proposal would be the start of a solution, but that “the situation is not reassuring when everyone is pulling rank and hunkering down behind their stances.”
Khrais said consultations between parliament speaker Nabih Berri and Jumblatt continued, and that both agreed on the need to find a president acceptable to all sides.
But representatives of Geagea and Aoun said that their candidates would not withdraw.
March 14-affiliated Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We are not interested in this proposal, especially as Geagea previously made a number of proposals and invited Michel Aoun to face him in parliament, or agree on two candidates from the two sides, with no response from Aoun.
“Henry Helou is not the problem in the presidential crisis. The main obstacle is Michel Aoun, who is refusing to withdraw his candidacy.”
Their stance was criticized by other lawmakers. Michel Aoun’s nephew, Alain Aoun, who is an MP in the Change and Reform bloc, said: “Insisting on candidates who have no chance of winning the presidency is itself a hindrance.
“The current parliament has harmed Christian interests,” he said, calling on all parties to “take responsibility for their decisions.”
Jumblatt has refused to support the nomination of either Geagea—so far the only one of the two main figures to officially declare his candidacy—or Aoun, whom he has described as “Hezbollah’s default candidate.” He said: “We are in need of a strong state president, not a strong Christian president.”
Minister of Health Wael Abu Faour, a member of the Progressive Socialist Party, said Jumblatt was trying to help Prime Minister Tammam Salam to resolve the crisis in Lebanon.
“We agreed with the prime minister that the presidential elections are key to all solutions, and that all the delays, problems, and obstacles we face today are a result of the presidential vacancy, and that the only solution, as Jumblatt said today, was to open the door of reconciliation on the presidency,” Abu Faour said following a meeting with Salam on Tuesday.
“As long as we continue to be obstinate and insist on conditions and counter conditions, the presidential vacancy will continue.”
Caroline Akoum contributed reporting from Beirut.