Inside his office in Beirut, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is busy with his team preparing for parliamentary elections scheduled for the middle of next month, which he is running without first-rank leaders in the Sunni community.
Under the slogan "Restoring the state," Siniora tweets outside the flock of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who suspended his political work and withdrew his current from the electoral scene.
Although he took a position associated with former and current prime ministers, in terms of reluctance to run, Siniora got involved in another way in the elections, by forming two lists, one in Beirut and the other in Tripoli, that includes veterans of the "future", in addition to coordinating in support of electoral sites in Sidon and the Bekaa. Middle and Chouf.
The former prime minister places his battle as filling the great void of the Sunni community, and talks about efforts to block the way for those he describes as emergency and adventurers.
However, Siniora's movement aroused resentment among the cadres of "Al-Mustaqbal", and expressed concern about the participation of Sunni lists in the elections, and the accompanying ambitions of inheriting the mantle of leadership, in the absence of Hariri.
Siniora is preparing for an electoral battle next May 15, with poles he describes as "sovereign" and who formed the nucleus of the March 14 forces, at the forefront of which are the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, while Hezbollah accuses them of forming a bloc as a spearhead against it, and seeks to obtain the majority as a referendum card to respond to them .
Siniora has formed a political situation since he emerged with former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 1992, and gained exceptional confidence in him, and he comes from the world of banking, finance, business management and the architect of the value-added tax in Lebanon.
His opponents, led by the Free Patriotic Movement, had previously held him responsible for mismanaging public money, especially after he held the Ministry of Finance several times, in which he was famous for his austerity policy.
Siniora held the position of Prime Minister twice, in 2005 under former President Emile Lahoud and their relationship was very tense, and in 2009 under former President Michel Suleiman, when his government oversaw the organization of parliamentary elections, and ran in them for the first time, so he entered Parliament as a representative from his city Sidon, and head of a bloc future stream.
Throughout his career, Siniora was famous for his sharp opposition to Hezbollah. His fortunes declined in recent years as a major project for the government, after the party and its allies seized a majority of parliament seats.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera Net, Siniora spoke about his positions on the elections and their challenges for the Sunni community in Lebanon, as he puts his battle on the front facing Hezbollah and its allies, both internally and regionally, as he talked about constitutional issues and hot files that occupy the Lebanese in the next stage, realizing that the battle is intense. The difficulty with Hezbollah, and this was evident in his saying: Whoever takes the majority, let him rule Lebanon, and the following is the text of the dialogue:
Pictures of candidates for a list bearing the slogan "Beirut Facing" Siniora's form in Beirut's second district (Al-Jazeera)
First - Siniora and the approach to the battle
Why is Prime Minister Siniora participating in the elections, even though former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's decision was seclusion?
We view these elections as a necessity to contest them.
As a former prime minister and interested in political affairs, I find that my mission is to push people to exercise their right and duty in elections, specifically with Sunnis and the community, so that their will is not falsified, through emergency and adventurers.
This prompted me to take an actual position, and I expressed it recently on March 15 when I announced that I am not a candidate, but that I will be immersed in the elections to the extreme, so that the Lebanese express the truth of their position, within the framework of a national call to restore the state, its authority and its free decision.
Contrary to what some promote, my goal is not to reach a position, especially since I have obtained all the positions that any political activist can aspire to, as a minister, head of a parliamentary bloc and prime minister.
However, is it reasonable to leave the national arena in general and the Sunni arena in particular to a vacuum?
I think it is our duty to straighten the compass, and to overcome the confusion, loss and frustration that afflict our people.
If the election is so important to you, why didn't you personally run for it, giving it more momentum?
Why are the main Sunni leaders absent from the electoral scene?
First, my personal message is that we can go into politics very hard without wanting positions.
As for the former prime ministers, each of them had their reasons for refraining from personal candidacy, and I also had my reasons, but I sympathized with that, to be a serious activist in the process, in order to achieve our goals in building and defending the state.
Who are the allies of President Siniora and who are his opponents in the elections?
Our allies are all sovereigns who want the Lebanese state to regain its role, authority, free decision, and commitment to respecting the constitution, laws, the independence of the judiciary, and Arab and international legitimacy.
These are the ones who represented the March 14 forces in the past, and they are the main asset in the battle to defend Lebanon and its identity.
As for our opponent, it is basically Hezbollah, and behind it is the Free Patriotic Movement and all the parties and personalities loyal to the Syrian regime, and they are forces that sought to sabotage the democratic and parliamentary system, and they struck its basic concept, on the basis that there is a majority controlling and holding accountable, and a non-marginalized minority that opposes in Parliament and monitors the government.
These forces caused imbalances in Lebanon and hit confidence, which led to successive collapses that affected the economic, financial and monetary conditions.
What balance are you talking about specifically?
We did not seem to distinguish an important issue, as Lebanon is based on "the strength of balance" and not on the so-called "balance of power".
We are currently in the second case, which is imposed by the force of Hezbollah's weapons, which imposes on the Lebanese what they do not want, which has led to the lack of stability in the Lebanese interior.
On the other hand, we are talking about Lebanon’s balance with its Arab surroundings in the region, after the major imbalances that affected Lebanon’s foreign policy and the deterioration of its relations with Arab and Gulf countries, whose features have emerged since the coup against Prime Minister Hariri’s government in 2011 by Hezbollah, and its negative effects have been reflected. On everything related to indicators and the aggravation of public debt.
The March 14 forces have grown since 2005, and they had a major counterweight, the Future Movement.
Today the future is out of the equation.
How will you be able to achieve goals you did not reach by confronting Hezbollah when March 14 was at the height of its power?
The Future Movement's audience is not over yet.
He is with the formula of the Lebanese state and its restoration, and with the restoration of the role of Arab Lebanon, and we all struggle for that.
However, there is a position taken by Hariri that he does not want to nominate himself or nominate anyone, but he did not ask the Lebanese or the Sunni Muslims not to vote.
Thus, the struggle continues with the power of the people.
However, we have observed anger expressed by some cadres of "Al-Mustaqbal" in objection to your political movement, which is inconsistent with Hariri's choice.
There are those who want to give what Hariri said other than what he meant.
I have previously discussed extensively with him and the former prime ministers, and my position was clear, in terms of that I am not here to inherit Saad Hariri, and he has his symbolism and love among the people, and when he wants to return, he will find something waiting for him and not a vacuum.
How does President Siniora describe the situation of the Sunni community at a time when it will lose the largest future parliamentary bloc that included 20 deputies?
Let me mention that when I was head of the Future Parliamentary bloc, in the only elections I ran in 2009, we had 33 deputies with us, an unprecedented achievement at the representative level.
However, when we achieved a majority, we confronted Hezbollah with a clear threatening statement, which means: If you want to form a majority government, this government will be on paper if there is paper left in Lebanon.
Since Hezbollah's coup against Hariri, the process of retreating from its base began, which led to the extension of the party's authority in Lebanon, and the processes of wasting time and conflicts in the formation of governments began.
On the other hand, the concept of "consensual democracy" came out.
How do you explain it with its implications?
We are paying the price for the "consensual democracy" theory, which is in violation of the Lebanese constitution, which says that voting in the government is by consensus, and if consensus is not possible, it is by vote.
As for what happened with this theory, it is that Hezbollah and the parties loyal to it took control of the state, the government and the parliament, and the government turned from a place for decision-making into an arena for debates instead of taking place in Parliament.
As a result of the same concept, the exchange of vetoes brought the power of Hezbollah and its allies to make the trade-offs.
Consensual democracy also provided a model under President Aoun that the President of the Republic can perpetuate his authority, and this is a natural result, in our opinion, after leaving the country in a vacuum for two and a half years before his election in 2016.
Siniora said that he does not seek to inherit the leadership of Hariri, who announced a boycott of the elections for the Sunni sect (Reuters)
Second - Siniora and the elections' obsessions
How do you view the current proportional electoral law?
What are your expectations at the polling level?
This law, which we are fighting through, violates in its depth the constitution and strikes the formula of Lebanese society, and leads to more sectarian and sectarian animosity among the Lebanese and leads the candidates on the same list to be opponents against each other.
What we seek is a massive participation of all the Lebanese, and it is not permissible to invoke a deficit, and an unjust law that we object to and not in the interest of the Lebanese, but in the end it is enforceable and there is no alternative to it.
What are your expectations for Hezbollah elections?
Promoting that the results are settled in favor of Hezbollah is misleading, and aims to frustrate the Lebanese, specifically the party's opponents, and what we seek is for the sovereigns to have a strong presence in the state.
But we fear for the integrity of the elections, as there are unreassuring indicators on the street so far, and mobile intimidation attempts, the latest of which is the attack on a banner for our candidates in Beirut, and before that the attack on the announcement of a list of opponents in the south.
You say that this electoral law serves the interests of Hezbollah.
If he gets the majority, how will you confront him in Parliament?
Our confrontation with Hezbollah is democratic, and each party bears its responsibility, and therefore, whoever takes the majority, let him rule Lebanon.
After the results are issued, we seek consensus among the sovereign groups on one basic position, which is restoring the Lebanese state, restoring respect for the constitution, laws, and Arab and international legitimacy.
Did the former prime ministers club's job end as soon as you refrained from personally participating in the elections?
The club's job exists, and we are in a constant state of consultation on everything, after it contributed to filling part of the void.
All we want is to restore respect for the Lebanese constitution.
Siniora said that his political battle lies in restoring the state from what he described as "Hezbollah's statelet" in Lebanon (Getty Images)
Third - Post-election challenges
Your opponents describe your approach to rule in successive governments as "political Harirism" and believe that it contributed to the great collapse that afflicts the country.
Who is responsible for all this in your opinion?
This is also misleading.
Because the aggravation of the public debt has manifold causes, the first of which is the electricity file, and the ill-conceived policies.
Although we have been in successive governments, Hezbollah since 2005 has been imitated by them, and bears a large part of the responsibility.
And let us recall that Lebanon, since 1975, has been experiencing a persistent budget and treasury deficit.
It was also subjected to about 7 Israeli attacks, and many external parties laid hands on the state, from Palestinian organizations to the occupation of the Syrian army, and then Iran's control through Hezbollah.
Consequently, Lebanon experienced continuous resistance to reform, and was exercised by authorities that denied the process of approving reforms, not to mention the passage of many laws that placed burdens on the treasury, without providing financial sources for it, which led to the failure to reduce the deficit.
This issue I suffered from for years, from the 1992 government to 2004, when it was the last budget that I prepared, during which more than 50 reform legal articles were approved, and they were rejected in Parliament.
Lebanon awaits a fateful entitlement after the parliamentary elections, which are the presidential elections. How does President Siniora assess the presidency's experience with Michel Aoun?
How does it affect the model for selecting a new presidential candidate for the country?
We in Lebanon, specifically as sovereign powers, are looking forward to correct presidential elections, and to return to what the constitution says, meaning that the President of the Republic is the president of all the country and all authorities, and he is the guardian of them and is keen on them, as he is the only one who swears to respect the Constitution.
We also want a strong president, not only of his sect, but of the various Lebanese sects, who is just and equitable and does not follow a political party.
This allows the government to return to a place of decision-making, where there is a majority ruling and a minority being judged.
This is only available in the presence of a president who is keen not to lose his impartiality.
If President Aoun wants to take a positive step towards respecting the constitution and saving Lebanon, he should sign the judicial formations before the end of his term, which were drawn up by the Supreme Judicial Council.
This is an example of the phenomenon of beating the constitution and not adhering to the principle of separation of powers.
You have a key ally on March 14, which is Samir Geagea as a leader among the Maronites, and it is a natural project for the Presidency of the Republic.
Do you support his candidacy for the presidency?
When the time comes we will see.
But the Lebanese state needs a new thought and approach, and I do not see it present in one of the natural candidates at the moment.
If your opponents win a majority of seats in parliament, are you afraid that they will put forward the idea of a new founding conference in Lebanon instead of the Taif Agreement?
We are currently against all these proposals and constituent conferences that call in essence for federalism.
We have a constitution that must be fully respected, including the Taif Agreement, and we must implement its requirements, specifically in terms of introducing the Senate to the state, and let us remember that Pope John Paul II called the Taif the message of coexistence.
Accordingly, the Taif Agreement sponsored by Riyadh in 1990, as well as the constitution, is a positive law and not a house, and it can be considered, provided that all souls calm down first.
As for raising discussion about it at the present stage, we see it as an invitation that we absolutely reject for more internal confrontation.
Siniora: We do not want to quarrel with Iran, but we refuse for Tehran to impose on us the presence of an armed party in Lebanon (Al-Jazeera)
Fourth - Regional Challenges
What are the political backgrounds for the return of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to Lebanon?
There is an awareness of the existence of a common interest, which first falls in the category of Lebanon, which cannot proceed in a state of isolation from its natural Arab environment.
Consequently, this absence had repercussions that were manifested in a major imbalance in the internal and external balances.
However, this isolation has pushed Lebanon more fully under the authority of Hezbollah and Iran, and therefore, the return of the Saudi and Kuwaiti ambassadors is a confirmation of this Arab position keen to restore security in the Arab Mashreq, specifically in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
We have seen an increasing awareness of the concept that Arab security is indivisible and needs new approaches.
You say that Lebanon paid the price of its isolation and the disruption of its relations with its Arab and Gulf environments.
Did he not also pay the price for your rivalry with Iran?
We do not want to quarrel with Iran, and we want to have a good relationship with it, but only on the condition that we establish relations based on true respect for the independence and sovereignty of every Arab country.
We are not hostile to anyone, but we refuse that Iran imposes on us the presence of an armed party.
But who will defend Lebanon in the face of Israel without the arms of Hezbollah, in your opinion?
There is a promotion of the belief that the state, with its official army, is incapable of defending Lebanon.
While the truth is that Hezbollah prevents empowering the state and the army in the face of Israel.
Simply put, the Lebanese state is run and governed by the state of Hezbollah.
Hezbollah accuses the March 14 forces of being the spearhead of the American project.
How would you describe the realism of the American role in Lebanon?
This accusation is completely false, and they are speaking out of treason against all their opponents, and the blood test of patriotism must stop.
Politically, this is a state that has its interests, and we have our interests, and we must build our interests on the basis of those who respect our sovereignty and those who help us for the sake of state sovereignty.
In your opinion, will the indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel over the border demarcation file succeed?
What is your explicit position on its course?
I must go back to 2009, when, in the days of my government, the borders with occupied Palestine were determined by point 23. This determination was based on a study by a committee of 10 people, including 4 officers, and all concerned ministries.
Subsequently, two committees were appointed in Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government, one in 2012 and one in 2013, and point 23 was established as Lebanon's right.
At that time, for it to be considered a final point, it had to be signed by 3 parties: Cyprus, occupied Palestine and Lebanon.
But the state of Lebanon's hostility towards Israel prevented this.
Currently, in the indirect negotiations, the main point is 23. There are those who talk about data that have arisen, and demand negotiations on Point 29. But going with this demand to the negotiations will lose Lebanon and will not reach a result.
Do you find that there are regional parties pressing to push Lebanon towards normalization with Israel?
We always say it, Lebanon is the last Arab country to sign with Israel, after emphasizing concern for the interests of the Palestinians and commitment to the Arab peace initiative.Keywords: