BEIRUT: Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai has praised Christian politicians as they united around a presidential candidate, in a move that could end a nearly eight-month power vacuum in Lebanon.
His blessings during Sunday sermon came after opposition parliamentary blocs agreed to support the nomination of Jihad Azour, a former minister who is the director of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department.
He is expected to contest the presidency against Suleiman Frangieh, the preferred candidate of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and their allies.
Al-Rahi also sent Bishop Paul Abdel Sater on Sunday to meet Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah as part of “dialogue with non-Christian forces, especially Hezbollah, to elect a president for all of Lebanon.”
The bishop is expected to continue visiting all political forces this week.
Sunday’s move by the opposition parliamentary blocs follows an announcement by the Free Patriotic Movement on Saturday.
There is now agreement between Christian MPs, Change MPs and some independent MPs to nominate Azour after Michel Moawad, an MP, withdrew from the election on Sunday.
Some had previously supported Moawad, whom Hezbollah saw as a provocative candidate.
The Progressive Socialist Party bloc is due to announce its position on Azour on Tuesday.
The decision to back Azour by the FPM, the largest Christian party in parliament, came after its leader Gebran Bassil fell out with Hezbollah after the group’s nomination of Frangieh.
“In the event of a call to a presidential election session, the FPM will vote for the agreed-upon name instead of submitting a blank ballot,” he said.
Waddah Sadek, an MP, told Arab News that estimates of the opposition indicate that Azour will receive more than 65 votes, which means he would win if a vote went to a second round.
“The ball will then be in the court of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who has been delaying the call for an election session since January unless he and his allies secure the election of Frangieh,” he said.
MPs have failed in 11 sessions to elect a new president due to the lack of quorum in the second round of each, as a result of the withdrawal of Hezbollah and Amal Movement MPs.
Hashem Safi, the head of the party's political council, dismissed the significance of Azour’s nomination.
“There is no single party capable of electing a president in Lebanon, regardless of the candidate's name, nature, affiliation, color, or political choices,” he said. “Therefore, unless the parties agree with each other, we cannot accomplish the presidential election."
During his sermon, Al-Rahi said: “If the political officials invoked God, they would have elected a president within the two months before the end of Michel Aoun’s term.
“They would have rushed to agree on electing a president that Lebanon needs in the face of complete political, economic, financial, and social collapse.”
Mohammed Khawaja, an Amal MP, said that the nomination of Azour was a ruse to block Frangieh, adding that he lacked the reformist vision that Lebanon needed.
Former MP Fares Souaid, head of the National Council to End the Iranian Occupation of Lebanon, described the Christian parties’ reconciliation as “brave.”
He said that confronting Hezbollah could not be done through ballot boxes or electoral alliances.
“The confrontation lies in re-forming internal unity around the Lebanese choice based on the Taif Agreement and coexistence,” he said.
“Confronting one sect against another is dangerous. A ballot box against a gun is dangerous. Spreading illusions in the face of killing is dangerous.”