Lebanon’s MPs to try again to elect Aoun’s successor

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Lebanon’s MPs will try on Wednesday for the 12th time to elect a successor to Michel Aoun whose presidential term ended in October.

Former ministers Suleiman Frangieh and Jihad Azour officially announced their candidacy for the presidency two days prior to the 12th scheduled parliamentary voting session.

The Maronite Patriarchate has declared that it remains “equidistant from all candidates.”

Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib announced on Monday that Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French envoy tasked with Lebanese affairs, will arrive in Beirut next week to initiate consultations regarding the presidential issue.

Sunni MPs — which number 27 out of 128 MPs — are not expected to play a decisive role as their votes are divided between candidates, with Azour’s camp, including the Christian blocs, opposing Hezbollah.

Azour said in a statement on Monday that he was “not a confrontational candidate or a product of partisan experimentation, with full respect for Lebanese parties.”

He added: “I am not a champion of one sect against another or against other sects.”

Azour views his candidacy as “an invitation to unity, breaking up alignments, and seeking common ground in order to overcome the crisis.”

He added: “It is true that Lebanon’s problems are not easily solved, but they are treatable.

“Don’t you see that we are preoccupied with divisive speeches and intimidating each other, while our country is completely isolated from all paths of reconciliation, rapprochement, and the ongoing developments in the region?”

Azour emphasized that he belongs to the “school of dialogue and convergence.”

He added: “I am extending a hand to include all components and political forces that are partners in the nation, based on the principle of convergence to achieve a national consensus that Lebanon needs more than ever before.”

He stressed the need for “complete independence from any external interference; protecting the land and full sovereignty; restoring the prestige of the state and its institutions; adhering to the constitution; and fortifying the Document of National Accord by implementing it in its entirety, as it is the superior common ground and the true basis for coexistence.”

He added: “I will work in cooperation with everyone to reconnect what has been severed with our Arab surroundings and with other countries in the world.”

It was announced last week that Azour had temporarily relinquished his duties as the director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund to avoid any perception of conflicting interests.

His rival Frangieh, who leads the Marada Movement — and is supported by Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and its allies — officially announced his candidacy on Sunday evening.

He said: “If I become president, I will be a president for all Lebanese.”

He has expressed concern over the “inability to elect a president under these circumstances.”

He added: “We are heading toward political divisions.”

Frangieh has criticized his opponents and former minister Ziad Baroud, the choice of some parliamentary blocs.

Frangieh has avoided discussing his stance on Hezbollah’s weapons, defensive strategy, the Syrian refugee issue, and his plans to address the economic situation.

MP Bilal Hashimi, a supporter of Azour’s candidacy, said: “Indecisive MPs must shoulder their responsibilities, especially since there is no longer enough time for maneuvering or choosing a third candidate or resorting to casting a blank ballot.”

Hashimi also warned that Hezbollah’s team will continue to “maneuver and exploit time until we surrender as an opposition, as has happened in the past.”

The head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammed Raad, accused Azour’s supporters of “intending to present a candidate who competes with the resistance faction, using him only to prevent the resistance’s candidate from reaching the presidency.”

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