Aoun says presidential elections won't be discussed in Future-Hezbollah talks

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Lebanese MPs sit in Parliament in October 2014. Al-Akhbar / Haitham Moussawi

Published Thursday, December 4, 2014

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun recently said he was not concerned with the dialogue between Lebanese political parties Hezbollah and Future Movement, expected to take place later this month.

“I’m not concerned with the dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah as long as I’m not invited. I will watch and observe,” Aoun was quoted as saying.

The Lebanese politician’s remarks to his close political advisors, made public on Wednesday by Al-Akhbar, touched on the upcoming bilateral talks between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, presidential and parliamentary elections, and the need for a new electoral law.

Aoun believes the dialogue aims only at defusing sectarian tension between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon, intensified after major strife regarding Lebanon’s role in the Syrian crisis and the deteriorating developments in the region.

The dialogue is not meant, however, to tackle other key issues in Lebanon, Aoun added, namely the presidential void and the unlawful extension of the parliament’s mandate.

According to Aoun, Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah confirmed that the presidential elections will not be included in the talks, even if MPs from the Future Movement continue to indirectly suggest otherwise.

Last month, Nasrallah said during Ashura commemoration that Aoun is Hezbollah and the March 8 coalition’s only presidential candidate.

Hezbollah’s officials have repeatedly said that the resistance party will not be involved in discussions tackling the presidential elections, asserting that the FPM, Hezbollah’s closest ally, will be in charge of this issue.

Aoun said the presidential elections will not be held anytime soon unless Lebanon replaces the 2008 electoral law with a new one.

On the basis of a new electoral law, parliamentary elections could also be held, which would allow the new elected parliament to vote for a new president.

Aoun still advocates for the Orthodox Gathering election bill, which was vehemently opposed last year by the March 14 coalition and secular groups in the country.

Meanwhile, the Council of Maronite Bishops issued a statement criticizing lawmakers for failing to elect a new president and yet successfully extending their own mandate for two years and seven months.

“The bishops are surprised that Parliament was able to renew its mandate in violation of the Constitution and the democratic system, and at the same time failed to elect a president,” read a statement released at the end of the bishops’ monthly meeting, chaired by Patriarch Beshara al-Rai in Bkirki.

“Is the danger of a vacancy in the presidential seat less serious than that of a parliamentary vacuum?” the bishops asked, urging lawmakers to respect the Constitution and elect a president instead of waiting for “regional and international signals or a Christian consensus.”

Dialogue on the right path

Meanwhile, lawmakers from Hezbollah and the Future Movement voiced optimism for the upcoming dialogue between the two parties after meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri during his weekly meeting in Ain al-Tineh.

Berri said the talks between Hezbollah and the Future Movement were on the right path.

“Matters are headed toward preparatory steps to start it [the dialogue],” he was quoted as saying.

“I am optimistic [about the dialogue]. We have always extended our hand for dialogue and we are not setting any preconditions,” Hezbollah MP Nawar al-Saheli told Lebanese news channel MTV after meeting Berri.

“The dialogue will reduce tensions and pave the way to a national debate over all divisive issues,” MP Qassem Hashem told local radio station Voice of Lebanon.

Both MPs expected talks to begin soon, approximately in the first half of this month.

According to Future MP Ammar Houri, the dialogue has entered “the phase of technical preparations in order to ensure its success.”

“Being objective and having logical expectations from the other party are key factors in reaching positive results,” he told Voice of Lebanon.

Houri said the dialogue has a good chance of success as long as both parties agree that the turmoil in Lebanon was due to the spillover of regional conflicts.

Interior Minister Nouhad al-Machnouk, a prominent figure in the Future Movement, also voiced optimism about the outcome of the dialogue in an interview Wednesday night with MTV.

“The dialogue with Hezbollah will produce results. This dialogue can at least preserve some national unity,” which, Machnouk said, is needed to face challenges ahead, adding that the dialogue needs to be given “a real chance.”

The dialogue will bring together Future Movement’s Nader Hariri, director of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s office, and MP Jamal al-Jarrah, and Hezbollah’s Hussein Khalil, a senior political adviser to Nasrallah, as well as another party lawmaker.

On Tuesday, Nader Hariri met with Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, Berri’s prominent political adviser, and discussed the proposed agenda for the dialogue. The meeting is seen as sign that both parties are committed to holding talks as soon as possible.



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