BEIRUT — "Open session with successive rounds until a president is elected — like electing the pope in Rome. Could anything be clearer?"
That's how Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri explained to the Lebanese daily al-Liwaa, in an interview published Monday, the content of an electoral session he plans to hold "at the beginning of October," following a dialogue initiative for various political parties to agree on a candidate.
Lebanon has been without a president for nearly a year, since Michel Aoun finished his term in Oct. 2022.
At the end of August, Berri pledged to hold an open electoral session in Parliament, provided they were preceded by an extended week-long dialogue bringing together the heads of parliamentary blocs.
'I will lead the dialogue'
"Let them come to the dialogue and let's talk, without anyone imposing their opinion on the other," Berri said in Monday's interview. He added that he still supports the candidacy of Sleiman Frangieh, the Marada Movement leader backed by Berri's Amal Movement and by Hezbollah.
"Either we agree on a name, or we disagree and hold an open session," he continued.
"We still have time before the meeting of the Group of Five, and I've heard that the Qataris will be coming to Lebanon with a proposal."
Composed of France, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar, this group is due to meet in the coming days at the UN General Assembly in New York alongside Jean-Yves Le Drian, French President Emmanuel Macron's special envoy for Lebanon.
"I will be leading the dialogue Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab," Berri added, saying he was "committed to the participation of everyone" in this initiative.
Geagea and the moumanaa 'refusal'
In an article published on Monday in the daily Annahar, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea asserted that "the only possible equation is [IMF official] Jihad Azour versus Sleiman Frangieh, there is no third solution because the moumanaa has refused to look for one."
Moumanaa is a term often used by Hezbollah's opponents to refer to the pro-Iranian political axis in Lebanon, represented by Hezbollah and its allies.
"What emerges from the meetings of the Group of Five is that the time has come to move towards a third candidate," Geagea said, recalling that Frangieh received 51 votes against 59 for Jihad Azour during the 12th electoral session, held on June 14.
"Everything we've heard about this farce called 'dialogue' actually shows that the moumanaa camp intends to buy time and pull the rug out from under the Group of Five," the LF leader added.
Berri's dialogue initiative was categorically rejected by the opposition Hezbollah camp. However, former president Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) was initially open to the proposal, while demanding that Berri clarify his initiative, before distancing itself.
On Sunday, FPM President Gebran Bassil once again criticized the dialogue suggested by Berri, calling it "traditional."