BEIRUT — French Special Envoy to Lebanon Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tuesday sent a letter to Lebanese MPs containing two questions regarding the "priority projects" the country's next president should focus on and the "qualities and competencies" the next president should possess to implement these projects. The letter comes more than nine months into a presidential vacuum that began following the end of Michel Aoun's term in office on Oct. 31.
A French diplomatic source told L'Orient-Le Jour, on condition of anonymity, that Le Drian's letter was sent to each parliamentary group chief as well as to independent MPs.
Le Drian visited Beirut at the end of July and proposed that Lebanese political players take part in an informal dialogue in September to find a solution to the present political deadlock over the election of a new president.
On Wednesday, opposition forces in Lebanon's Parliament published a joint statement stressing the "futility of any formula for dialogue with Hezbollah and its allies." MPs from the Kataeb party and the Lebanese Forces, along with some independent and Forces of Change MPs, released the statement.
This is the first official reaction from opposition MPs to Le Drian's call for a dialogue in September.
Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, are backing Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh for the presidency, while the opposition camp is backing former Finance Minister and current International Monetary Fund (IMF) senior official Jihad Azour.
'Atmosphere of confidence'
The last parliamentary session to elect a new president was held on June 14. Neither Frangieh nor Azour managed to secure sufficient votes to win election. Berri has not set a date for a new election session since.
In his letter, Le Drian stressed that "the [expected] dialogue aims to provide an atmosphere of confidence that later allows Parliament to meet within conditions conducive to holding open-ended elections that would allow for ending the crisis quickly."
Le Drian's letter asked MPs two questions:
- "According to your political party, what are the priority projects that are related to the president's term during the next six years?"
- "What are the qualities and competencies that the next president should have to carry out these projects?"
Le Drian asked the parties to "submit a written response to the French Embassy in Lebanon before Aug. 31." He added that "bilateral consultations would be conducted before the dialogue" and expressed his desire to meet the MPs within the discussed framework.
Lastly, he expressed hope that MPs would "seize this opportunity."
According to the French diplomatic source, Le Drian will be back in Lebanon at the beginning of September and will hold bilateral meetings with political actors in hope of thereafter holding a meeting involving all the stakeholders.
'Futility' of dialogue
In their statement published Wednesday, opposition MPs said that "the time has come for decisiveness, and there is no longer any room for wasting time or for arranging circumstantial settlements that would reproduce Hezbollah's control over the three presidencies [the presidency, the premiership and the Parliament speakership] and the country."
The statement also announced that the MPs agreed on a "political framework" founded on finding ways to "achieve the supremacy of the constitution, preserve freedoms on all Lebanese territory, limit weapons to the state's legitimate military forces, find ways to reach a foreign policy based on neutrality to protect Lebanon, and try to save and reform the judiciary, administration, economy and financial situation."
The statement welcomed Le Drian's initiative but stressed the "futility of any formula for dialogue with Hezbollah and its allies" and warned against "imposing a president of the republic that is an extension of Hezbollah's authority."
The statement then stressed that "the only acceptable form of negotiation, and within a limited period, is the one conducted by the next president of the republic revolving around the fate of illegal weapons and limiting the maintenance of the external and internal security of the state to the army and security services. As for the attempt to oblige the [future] president of the republic [to make] any prior political commitments, it is a breach of the constitution due to the fact that the president should be elected first."
The statement also emphasized the "content of the Doha Declaration issued by the group of five countries (France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United States of America and Qatar)," which specified the required specifications for the future president that are "compatible with the demands of the opposition."
The so-called group of five met in Doha on July 17 to discuss Lebanon's presidential vacuum.
In addition, the opposition groups affirmed their "ongoing boycott of any legislative session due to the unconstitutionality of such sessions before the election of the president." They also called on the "resigned government to stop violating the constitution" and abide by the limitations of a caretaker government.
On Wednesday, Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam announced that the "Strong Republic" parliamentary bloc "will not participate in tomorrow's legislative session."