Frangieh and Moawad are confrontational candidates: Jumblatt

Press Highlights
2023-03-21 | 02:53
High views
Frangieh and Moawad are confrontational candidates: Jumblatt
Frangieh and Moawad are confrontational candidates: Jumblatt

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt believes that some "senior leaders" in Lebanon need to understand the changes in the world and move towards a minimum acceptable settlement and not bet on the void that raises the specter of division. 

In an interview with "al-Akhbar," he considered that Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh could be a "confrontational" candidate, as could MP Michel Moawad, and that "it is time to come out with a consensus formula.

On another note, he described the Saudi-Iranian reconciliation as a "significant strategic development," indicating that today's world seems to be facing a new challenge. 

Here is the Q&A of the interview:

- How do you interpret the Iranian-Saudi agreement? Don't you see a Saudi move that's unusual? 

I've previously described the Saudi move as a master stroke. There is no doubt that this is a significant strategic development in the region, and Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi's invitation to visit Riyadh indicates the magnitude of the changes in the area. 
- Will the Americans allow this path to continue? 

I cannot answer that because I don't know. But there is no doubt that there is a significant atmosphere of cold wars looming over the world, including the huge war in Ukraine, which is a proxy war between the Americans and the Russians, and similar wars may loom over the world in the South China Sea in Southeast Asia, where we are witnessing an unprecedented arms race. In my opinion, the first item in the Saudi-Iranian reconciliation is the Yemeni file.

- How do you view the Arab, mainly Saudi, opening towards Syria? 

When major global events, from the war in Ukraine to the Gulf-Syrian rapprochement, occur, we see how people alone pay the price. However, in general, we are witnessing a new dawn today. In this context, some entire peoples are sacrificed politically and militarily.

- What are the implications of the Saudi-Iranian reconciliation for Lebanon? 

Some of Lebanon's top leaders, and leaders between brackets, must understand these changes, move towards the minimum acceptable settlement, and refrain from betting on stubbornness and vacuum. The political vacuum returns me to the fear of division.

- Which "leaders" are you referring to? From both sides?

The side of the Shiite duo is clear. They nominated Sleiman Frangieh, and Frangieh could be a confrontational candidate, just like Michel Moawad is a confrontational candidate. 

It is time to come up with a consensus formula. I speak for myself. When I read a statement by Samir Geagea, I wondered how he could say he prefers a vacuum while the lira witnesses a dramatic deterioration every day. At least this fundamental issue should be taken into consideration.

- For you, between Frangieh and a vacuum, who do you choose?

This was evident when a delegation from Hezbollah visited me at my request, and I presented them with three non-final names: Jihad Azour, Salah Honein, and Joseph Aoun. Except for Azour, we are still traditional in our proposals. Why don't we break away from this tradition? There are Maronite elites. In this context, Shibli al-Mallat and May Riḥani were proposed. For me, they are the best, but the decision is not mine.

- Is the army commander still a candidate?

The army commander has been proposed for months by the French, Saudis, and Qataris. I don't know if there is anything new after the recent developments.

- You have always proposed that the president should have economic qualifications.

 I prefer someone like Jihad Azour or others with similar qualifications. There are also legal qualifications, and Mallat is capable of fulfilling both of these qualifications with a team. Electing a president should be accompanied by forming a government and a team whose primary concern is stopping economic deterioration.

- Do you think Hezbollah's concerns should be considered when choosing the president?

What concerns are you referring to? No one can "stab" the resistance, and I have previously mentioned that those who cling to so-called international resolutions such as 1559 live in a "different world." Since 1967, we have been talking about Resolution 242, and the Golan Heights are still occupied, as well as Jerusalem and the West Bank, and only one item has been implemented through negotiations between Egypt and Israel, which returned Egyptian territories and removed it from the Arab-Israeli conflict.

- Is there a Saudi-French issue regarding the approach to the presidential file? 

I read about it in the newspapers.

- Do you agree with the proposal of exchanging the presidency and the government in any settlement? 

There must be a harmonious working team. The exchange of having the president from one group and the prime minister from another is a fallacy. If we start the exchange like this, it will include everything. 
After a short time, the Shiite deputy will replace the central bank governor, just as a Christian replaced the head of general security. This will create massive disruption and confuse the rules of the Taef accord, or we may adopt Saeb Salam's theory of rotating the jobs of the first category. If so, I have no objection.

- Is today's economic situation the result of successive government policies, the policies of Riad Salameh, or due to an international blockade, or a combination of all these factors?

There is no international blockade. This results from a wrong bet on the rentier economy, the economy of services, banks, and tourism, and the abandonment of agriculture and industry. Debt accumulated until we reached a dead end.

- Wasn't it former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri who started this?

That's correct, but the Rafik Hariri era was different. He was able to cover up these shortcomings with his international and Arab relations and save the treasury in his way with Arab and Gulf aid.

- Can a country be built on personal relationships?

That's true, but we've gone too far with it. It has yielded achievements, but it has left behind significant gaps. Today, amidst the current deterioration, it is up to the central bank to stop printing liras to halt the terrifying inflation. It is up to the banks to repay their debts to small depositors.

- How do you deal with the crisis in the "mountain?" Have your contributions increased?

We try as much as possible and within our capabilities.

- How much did you pay?

We succeeded in supporting the mountain from Siblin to Rashaya and Hasbaya, passing through Aley, during the coronavirus pandemic, which cost us a lot. But the collapse issue is more costly and requires a different equation.

- Did you ask for aid during your recent visit to Kuwait? 

I visited Kuwait to attend an event hosted by the Children's Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL). However, it was an opportunity to renew the relationship with Kuwait. Still, Gulf countries will not return to giving money without conditions as they did in the past for Lebanon.
A list of conditions set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) still needs to be implemented.

- Who is obstructing the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?

It's the lobby of some politicians and the powerful banking lobby, which is why we see blame being thrown between the central bank and the banks. The banks themselves are divided between those who support and those who oppose capital control, not to mention that the recovery plan presented by Prime Minister Najib Mikati is very vague and satisfies everyone without offering anything. Mikati's top advisors threw the plan on the Parliament on the basis of "figure it out yourselves," and it was forgotten in Parliament. It is said that the big strategic mistake began with the government's decision under Hassan Diab to stop paying the debts. Diab was also surrounded by left-leaning advisors who were hostile to the system.

- Does the recent talk of federalism scare you? 

Unfortunately, once again, one of Prime Minister Mikati's senior advisors and a prominent economist are advocating for what is called federalism. 
Federalism is a system of government that exists in strong central states such as the United States, Germany, Brazil, and others. But how does federalism work in a sectarian state? They talk about cultural differences. 
In 1975, the Lebanese Front introduced the theory of cultural pluralism, which led us into successive rounds of violence. 

Do we want to go back to the past? Unfortunately, some of these individuals have presented maps of federalism in America, saying that federalism makes each sect's reference point in any region go back to the center. For example, the reference point for Shiites in Jbeil goes back to the center. But which center? The reference point for Sunnis in Hasbaya goes back to which center? Is the reference point for Christians in the south Maarab or Rabbieh? It doesn't make sense. 

We support administrative decentralization, which allows for the election of provincial or district councils. As for expanded financial decentralization, it is an invitation to division. Why don't they approach the issue from a socio-economic perspective? There are more developed regions than others. Why don't we go back to the Ministry of Planning as in the days of Fouad Chehab, and I remind you that our slogan in the national movement was balanced development.

- You have recently shown interest in official educational affairs. The Minister of Education is affiliated with your group, and he has shown great leniency towards the official education sector by remaining silent about the issue of fees in dollars, for example, while being strict with the demands of official teachers.

I agree with that. Perhaps the minister is not used to the public sector and its demands. We have tried to help him and we still are. It was necessary to stand openly with the public sector. For us, since Kamal Jumblatt's days, the foundation of the education sector is the public sector, not the private sector. The demands of the public sector could have been met with a reasonable amount not exceeding 25 million dollars instead of 100 million dollars for electricity which seems unnecessary.

- It is not hidden that there is a difference between you and Taymour.
 It's not a difference, but rather a difference in perspectives. I am somewhat traditional. From now on, I am gradually working on withdrawing and it is his opportunity to make all the decisions.

- Does the difference in perspectives include political alliances?
 Perhaps he has a different perspective on political alliances.

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