BEIRUT: Lebanese officials on Monday suggested that the country could soon end its presidential vacuum and political deadlock by electing a new leader.
After meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Edward Gabriel, president of the American Task Force for Lebanon, said that the speaker informed him that “a session will be held soon to elect a president.”
The American Task Force for Lebanon is an NGO made up of prominent Americans of Lebanese heritage who work to strengthen ties between Washington and Beirut.
Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi that “Lebanon’s relief is around the corner and a president should be elected, as it is the door for salvation.”
The Lebanese public are facing crisis after crisis amid a presidential vacuum that has continued for five months. Moreover, Lebanese Parliament is unable to pass legislation before the election of a president, and the cabinet cannot take any decisions, since it is acting in a caretaker capacity.
The dollar rate reached 92,000 Lebanese pounds at the beginning of this week, while banks are set to close their doors again to protest judicial decisions issued against them, despite promises to suspend the measures.
Through its president, the American Task Force for Lebanon called for “the necessity to elect a president and carry out the needed reforms, especially with regard to electricity.” Gabriel said that “the task force reminded Berri of his earlier promise to elect a president by the end of 2022; however, this didn’t happen.”
Gabriel denied discussing the Saudi-Iranian agreement with Berri.
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari on Monday also visited Berri. He said that the speaker “called for balanced rhetoric and stated that the current stage requires resorting, more than ever, to kind rhetoric and permanent wagering on good will.”
Lebanese political parties hold divergent opinions on the new Saudi-Iranian agreement. Hezbollah, through statements delivered by some of its officials, says the agreement “is a victory for its presidential choice,” deeming the election of its candidate Sleiman Frangieh to be crucial.
Meanwhile, the political camp opposing Hezbollah issued a statement that said: “It is still too soon to capitalize on an agreement that didn’t mention the Lebanese file and that provides for non-interference in the affairs of other states.”
The opposing camp also referred to comments by Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Faisal bin Farhan, who said that “Lebanon requires a Lebanese rapprochement, instead of a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.”
Mikati, who is visiting the Vatican on Wednesday, discussed the presidential file during a private meeting with Al-Rahi as well as the implications of the ongoing political conflict. After the meeting, Mikati said: “There’s a consensus on the need to elect a president as soon as possible, to regulate the public work and the functioning of constitutional institutions.”
Mikati added: “Crises cannot be resolved without reaching a political solution that allows the parliament to carry out its natural role and opens the way for the formation of a fully constitutional cabinet.”
MP Marwan Hamadeh, member of the Democratic Gathering party, was surprised by the degree of optimism that Lebanese officials were expressing, including Mikati. He asked: “What relief is Mikati talking about? Was he referring to the dollar rate of 100,000 Lebanese pounds, or the deterioration of the state sectors?”
Hamadeh added: “There are no new developments in the presidential file and the stances are still the same in this regard. The Arab and international stance calls for the election of a sovereign president, who is accepted by all the internal components and the international community and able to restore Lebanon’s sovereignty and institutional functions, so he can be welcomed by everyone.”
Head of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil heavily criticized Mikati last week for failing to sign a naturalization decree for people requesting Lebanese nationality, including Syrian businessmen. Mikati responded to critics by calling for “the election of a president as soon as possible.”
The Lebanese Council of Muftis announced on Monday at Dar El-Fatwa, headed by the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian, said it “upholds the coexistence provided for in the constitution and the Taif Agreement, abides by the rules of fraternal relations with Arab countries, and safeguards common interests with them.”
The council warned against the “continuation of the presidential vacuum, as it exposes Lebanon to unnecessary risks.”
It denounced “the repeated attacks targeting the premiership, leading to a new strife under the pretext of prerogatives.”