|Date: Mar 19, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Hariri to defend moderation as electoral race heats up|
|Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri pledged Sunday to defend the country’s Arabism, moderation and the Taif Accord, part of the Future Movement’s campaigning for the upcoming parliamentary elections, whose battle is gaining momentum with more factions announcing their candidates for Lebanon’s first polls in nine years. Meanwhile Lebanon, boosted by the success of last week’s Rome II Conference in support of the Lebanese Army and security forces, has prepared a blueprint to forward to the CEDRE conference, also known as Paris IV, set for next month to shore up Lebanon’s ailing economy and aging infrastructure, officials said Sunday.
“We are the guardians of the state, legitimacy and institutions. We are the guardians of the Taif Accord, Arabism and moderation. This is our role and the role of Beirut and each one of you,” Hariri said in a speech at a ceremony marking the graduation of over 350 trained firefighters held at the municipal stadium in Beirut’s Al-Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood.
“In order to be a firefighter in Beirut, you must be loyal to Beirut and love its residents, squares, houses, markets and streets. In order to be a firefighter in Beirut, you must be concerned about its safety.”
Hariri said his job as prime minister and head of the Future Movement was to snuff out “political fires” and prevent wars raging in the region from spilling over to Lebanon.
“You see that we are working like firefighters, too. The most important role we are playing is to extinguish political fires and prevent any fire in the region from spreading to Lebanon,” Hariri said.
The prime minister added that there are people, whom he did not name, whose job was to start fires. “But our job is to extinguish fires and prevent damage to the people,” he said. The ceremony was also attended by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk who described Hariri as the “top firefighter of political fires in Lebanon.”
The Cabinet is set to meet at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Baabda Palace in an ordinary session to discuss 35 items on the agenda, the most important of which is Lebanon’s blueprint to the CEDRE conference, an official source told The Daily Star.
“The Cabinet will study a working paper which Lebanon will present to the CEDRE conference under the title ‘Capital Investment Program,’” the source said.
The CEDRE conference, set for April 6, is aimed at drumming up international support to bolster Lebanon’s economy and infrastructure through investment projects and soft loans. It is one of three international conferences aimed at supporting Lebanon.
A third international conference, to be held in Brussels later in the spring, will focus on support for Syrian refugees in the region, including Lebanon.
French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher said his country would encourage its partners to pledge support for Lebanon’s economy at the CEDRE conference.
“France has always been loyal to Lebanon, especially in difficult times,” Foucher said at a ceremony honoring Lebanese Army veterans and French citizens who live in Lebanon.
“Soon, in Paris, France will call on its partners to support investments and reforms necessary to develop Lebanon’s economy,” he added.
In response to the international community’s appeal, France will also contribute toward facing the repercussions of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon at the Brussels conference, Foucher said.
Lebanon is currently hosting 1.5 million Syrian refugees, according to government estimates, draining the country’s economy and infrastructure.
Meanwhile, as more parties announced the names of their candidates for the elections slated for May 6, the chances of an electoral coalition between the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces appeared to be dwindling.
Local media said Information Minister Melhem Riachi, one of three LF ministers, would visit Hariri in a last-ditch attempt to agree on an electoral alliance between the two former allies.
But a tacit war of words between the two sides cast doubts about a possible electoral coalition.
“We don’t need a Moroccan fortuneteller to find out where the country is heading. We don’t want either to resort to methods to protect us from evil eye because we have failed in everything. With our efforts, we must rise with this country,” Deputy Premier and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani said at a ceremony during which the joint list of LF and Kataeb Party candidates in the eastern city of Zahle was announced.
Hasbani, one of three LF ministers, was apparently responding to Hariri who, when asked about the chances of an electoral alliance with the LF, said last week: “The Lebanese Forces needs a Moroccan fortuneteller in order to understand what they want.”
Hasbani also appeared to ridicule the Future Movement’s “evil eye charm” slogan launched when Hariri announced on March 11 the names of 37 Future candidates for the elections.
Hasbani drew a quick rebuke from Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khali over the electricity problem.
“They tell us there will be no electricity unless you act according to our plan. We say: Either you follow the law or go away,” Hasbani said in an indirect swipe at Abi Khalil’s controversial plan to lease power barges to solve Lebanon’s long-running electricity problem.
Abi Khalil’s plan has been opposed by the LF, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Kataeb Party and MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc for being too expensive and lacking transparency.
Abi Khalil, from the Free Patriotic Movement, hit back at Hasbani, saying in a tweet: “The country and its economy can no longer bear with your immaturity. Go and learn the law and Cabinet action. Make some achievement at your ministries. Enough trading with the citizens’ interests.”
Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced candidates for all 11 seats in northern Lebanon’s Tripoli, Minyeh and Dinnieh electoral district that will run as a full list for his Azm Party. “It is our most basic right to live in dignity,” Mikati told a rally of his supporters in Tripoli.
Hezbollah also announced the names of 10 candidates in the Baalbeck-Hermel district, which is expected to witness a fierce battle between the party and its allies on one hand, and rival factions on the other.
Last week, the FPM and the Progressive Socialist Party announced their candidates for the elections. This came as the deadline for finalizing electoral lists is drawing near. Parties and blocs must submit their tickets for the elections by midnight on March 26, the deadline set by the Interior Ministry.