BEIRUT: Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh struck a defiant tone Wednesday as Lebanon's leading politicians met for a fresh round of talks to bridge the gap over a number of long-standing issues including the presidential election.
Franjieh said he will not withdraw from the presidential race in favor of his ally Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founder MP Michel Aoun, arguing that he enjoys a clear majority in Parliament.
"I do not understand how someone who [could] secure 70 votes is expected to withdraw for someone who [could] secure 40 votes," Franjieh told reporters after the 14th session of National Dialogue talks in Ain el-Tineh.
While Future Movement leader Saad Hariri reportedly nominated Franjieh for the presidency late last year, he has yet to officially endorse the Marada Movement leader. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Jumblatt had both welcomed Hariri's initiative but have yet to publically support Franjieh's presidential bid over Aoun's. Franjieh's announcement makes it clear that he enjoys the support of the Future Movement, the PSP and Berri's parliamentary blocs in addition to a number of independent MPs.
Franjieh invited Aoun to a showdown in parliament, arguing that he would not run as a candidate in the first round of voting but would join the race if the former general fails to secure enough votes for his election as president in the first session.
According to the constitution, a candidate must obtain two-thirds of the votes in the first round of voting while an absolute majority is sufficient in subsequent rounds.
Franjieh said he was open to consultations with Aoun but added that he will not withdraw his candidacy.
"[Former] General Aoun is welcome in Bnashii [Franjieh's residence], however my position will remain the same," Franjieh said.
Aoun, who enjoys the support of Hezbollah, the country's leading Shiite party, received a major boost for his presidential bid when Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea endorsed him earlier this month.
The rapprochement between the two most prominent Christian parties followed Hariri's nomination of Franjieh for the presidency.
Hezbollah, who has long maintained that Aoun is the official March 8 presidential candidate, has yet to take an official stance vis-à-vis Geagea's initiative.
Geagea says Hezbollah has no interest in facilitating Aoun's election, arguing that the party could exert pressure on Franjieh to withdraw from the presidential race or ask Berri's parliamentary bloc to vote in favor of Aoun if it truly supported the former general's presidential bid.
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