BEIRUT — Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and presidential candidate MP Michel Moawad on Thursday engaged in a tense exchange of accusations after Berri called the elected official an "in-vitro experiment," and displayed his support for Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh in the presidential election.
These comments come as the political class remains divided over the choice of a successor to former President Michel Aoun, whose term ended on Oct. 31.
While the opposition camp continues to support Moawad while displaying its openness to the election of the army's commander in chief, Gen. Joseph Aoun, the Amal Movement, headed by Berri, along with Hezbollah, continues to support Frangieh, much to the displeasure of the head of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil.
"Our candidate is known; it is Sleiman Frangieh," Berri said in an interview with the daily newspaper Al-Akhbar. "The blank vote designated him without naming him. In the first election session, on Sept. 29, he got 63 votes. Almost more than half. He remains our candidate and everyone knows it, we have assured him more than once."
On Sept. 29, 63 deputies voted blank. Frangieh's name has come out of the ballot box only once during the 11 presidential electoral sessions held in Parliament.
"Their candidate, he is only an in vitro experiment," the speaker said, criticizing the opposition camp, which supports Moawad.
Berri also mentioned "efforts to ensure that Sleiman Frangieh has the greatest support," adding that he is "waiting" for the FPM and its leader to be convinced to vote for him.
In a call for dialogue that could pave the way to unblock Lebanon's presidential election deadlock, an initiative that Berri has called for before, he said the problem is "inter-Maronite." This comes at a time when the leaders of the main parliamentary blocs remain in disagreement on a candidate.
'Master of corruption'
Reacting to Berri's comments to Al-Akhbar, MP Moawad said, "The head of the Amal Movement, who has monopolized the presidency of the Parliament for more than 30 years, surprised us with words that do not correspond to his status as head of the legislature but to the position of a militiaman."
Moawad also denounced an "attack" on his father, former President Rene Moawad. "It is also an attack on all the MPs and parliamentary groups who voted for me, and the village of Zgharta [from which he hails] and the North," he added.
"The Lebanese do not need anyone to remind them of Nabih Berri's militia practices, his blockade of Beirut and its economy, his invasion of the city on May 7 , nor the embargo he imposes today on the whole country with his ally, Hezbollah," he continued.
Moawad added that Berri "insists either on the election of a president affiliated to the axis of the Moumanaa [the pro-Iranian axis], or on the blockage and paralysis of the deadline, and the monopolization of the prerogatives of the head of state."
Moawad also accused Berri of being a "master of corruption across mandates and governments and the biggest partner in cake-sharing since 1992, even long before the Taif Agreement."
Later on Thursday, MP Ali Hassan Khalil, Berri's right-hand man, in turn, reacted to Moawad's statement, saying that Moawad has become "a political test tube in the laboratory of those who have brought you as a candidate."
On Thursday evening, the Marada Party issued a statement in reaction to Moawad's accusations. "We refrain from responding to you, while you seize all opportunities to attack the leader of the Marada," the party said, adding that the Parliament Speaker remains the man of dialogue.