Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Joumblatt said the re-establishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Riyadh and Damascus, will have no impact on the Lebanese presidential file. “I don’t see Lebanon in all this,” Joumblatt told L’Orient-Le Jour.
In his eyes, Arab world’s recent warming toward Damascus “is only a half step for Bashar al-Assad to return to the Arab fold, without implementing the necessary reforms to the [Syrian] political system and neglecting the fate of refugees.”
“This will therefore have no impact on Lebanon,” said Joumblatt.
He said the same goes for the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. “The March 10 agreement is mainly about the conflict in Yemen. Unless there is a way out of this war, Saudi Arabia will not be able to implement its titanic projects,” said the PSP leader. “It is up to us to reach a consensus in order to break the deadlock.”
Joumblatt seems more convinced than ever of the correctness of his positioning on the political and presidential chessboard. In his eyes, the future president will not be a candidate supported by this or that political camp, he will be the fruit of a broad political agreement.
“I remain firm in my position: No to any challenging candidate.”
These remarks come at a time when Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh believes he is all the rage, as evidenced by his statements following his Monday meeting with Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai.
From Bkirki, the Hezbollah-endorsed candidate called on his critics to decipher new changes on a regional level, insinuating that the regional changes were now in his favor, despite the Saudi veto of his candidacy.
“Sleiman Frangieh and his supporters have their own reasons to believe that the Marada leader has better chances,” acknowledged Joumblatt. “France continues to support the Marada leader for reasons that I am trying to understand.”
This is an obvious dig at Paris, which has been advocating for the election of Frangieh as president in exchange for the designation of Nawaf Salam — former Lebanese ambassador to the UN and current judge at the International Court of Justice — to form the first cabinet in the next six-year term.
‘I am waiting for the Lebanese Forces to emerge from their meditations’
How to get out of the current impasse? Joumblatt was the first to open a dialogue with Hezbollah to prompt the party to take a third path that would pave the way for a broader agreement around the future president.
In January, the PSP leader even proposed three presidential candidates to a Hezbollah delegation These names included Lebanese Armycommander-in-chief Joseph Aoun, who is categorically rejected by Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil; former MP Salah Honein; and Jihad Azour, a former finance minister and current director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund.
After three months, Joumblatt no longer seems willing to pursue such an initiative.
“I will no longer nominate a presidential candidate. Because every time I do so, I face opposition from my allies, including the Lebanese Forces (LF), and from the opposing camps, including the diehard Forces of Change and the big names who are currently invited to Washington and Brussels in an attempt to change the course of history,” said Joumblatt with a joking tone.
He hence criticized the Forces of Change MPs who have failed to agree on a single candidate for president. Joumblatt’s remarks are also aimed at opposition camp leaders, who are also unable to agree on a presidential candidate, as well as the key Christian parties, namely the LF, the FPM and the Kataeb.
While they converge on the opposition to Frangieh’s election, they cannot seem to propose a serious alternative.
“I am waiting for the LF to emerge from their meditations and adopt a more concrete approach to the presidential election,” said Joumblatt.
“I am also waiting for the FPM’s more-than-strategic positions,” he added in a joking tone.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.