Samir Geagea says vote delay would lead to Lebanon's 'slow death'

Politicians from all sides have said the election should happen on time

Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, gives an interview from his residence in Maarab, Lebanon, on November 29. Reuters

One of Lebanon's main Christian politicians has accused Hezbollah and its allies of working to postpone a parliamentary election set for March, saying such a move would condemn the country to a "slow death".

Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces and an ally of Saudi Arabia, pointed the finger at Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement.

The Lebanese Forces leader argued that although Hezbollah’s military clout extends from Beirut to Sanaa, the party can be politically contained in the parliamentary elections.

Western donors that have been trying to save Lebanon from its financial implosion have said the vote must go ahead.

"They are near certain that they will lose their parliamentary majority," Mr Geagea told Reuters in an interview at his residence in the mountains overlooking the coastal town of Jounieh.

Politicians from all sides, including Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah, have repeatedly said it should happen, in order not to deal a further blow to the country's standing.

Hezbollah Member of Parliament Ibrahim Moussawi responded to Mr Geagea's comments by saying they were "lies" and "slander," in a statement published on the state-run National News Agency.

Hezbollah was firmly in favor of holding elections "on their scheduled constitutional dates," the statement said.

Mr Aoun said this month he would not sign authorisation for the vote to be held on March 27 as the date was too early.

Asked whether a postponement would lead to more fighting after clashes last month between the Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah, Mr Geagea said: "Not fighting, but to more slow death."

"With the current way things are going, state institutions - and so the state - is dissolving day by day," he said.

Lebanon's government, formed from most major political parties in September, has not convened in nearly 50 days amid a push by Hezbollah and its allies to remove the judge investigating the deadly August 2020 Beirut port blast.

Without an election to shake up parliament "you will see more of the same," Mr Geagea said. The United Nations says the economic meltdown has left nearly 80 per cent of people in the country in poverty.

Lebanon has been facing a wave of Gulf Arab anger after prominent broadcaster-turned-minister George Kordahi levelled blunt criticism at Saudi Arabia. Mr Geagea, who maintained close contact with the Saudi ambassador in Beirut, said Hezbollah's increasing influence was the main problem behind the rift, which is harmful to Lebanon's economy.

"We see Saudi and the Gulf as economic lungs for Lebanon," he said.

Street clashes

Following October's violent clashes, where seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and its ally Amal were killed, Hezbollah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, accused Geagea's Lebanese Forces of seeking to start a sectarian conflict and said Hezbollah had 100,000 fighters at his disposal.

Mr Geagea denied Nasrallah's allegation that the Lebanese Forces had 15,000 fighters, saying the party had 35,000 members of whom only some had personal arms and perhaps more than 10,000 – "the whole old generation" - had military training.

Mr Geagea said the Lebanese Forces did not seek a physical confrontation with Hezbollah and were not concerned about the breakout of sectarian violence due to the role of the Lebanese Army in maintaining civil peace.

However, he said he had limited his movement and was not leaving his mountain residence in Maarab due to security threats, without giving further details.

Updated: December 1st 2021, 5:41 AM