Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

No one to please all

While Lebanon is enjoying a rare degree of autonomy from outside interference in choosing its next president, appropriate candidates are proving hard to find, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi in Beirut

Al-Ahram Weekly

At time of going to press, it was likely that Lebanon’s parliament would postpone the session dedicated to the election of a new president.

At a time when the country is desperate for a consensual president, politicians from across the political spectrum seem unable to agree on one. Michel Aoun, who has a large Christian following and is a known supporter of Hizbullah, is one possibility. But even his chances seem at present remote.

So far, arranging for a full quorum parliamentary session has been difficult. And it doesn’t seem that the two rival groups in the country, the 14 March Alliance led by the Future Movement and the 8 March Alliance led by Hizbullah, will be able to get the 50-plus-one share of the 128 parliamentary votes needed to elect a president.

For some reason, the 14 March Alliance is promoting Samir Gagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, as its candidate. Gagea’s alleged involvement in wartime crimes, including the assassination of Prime Minister Rachid Karami, makes him an unlikely consensual president.

As for the 8 March Alliance, it has made it clear that it cannot attend a voting session on Lebanon’s next president unless the candidate is known to all and approved in advance.

At the end of the day, both rival alliances are aware that pushing a candidate through without the consensus of all would be an exercise in futility, and yet brinkmanship seems to be too much to resist — as Gagea’s candidacy suggests.

It is likely, however, that behind closed doors hectic efforts are being made to strike deals leading at least temporarily to a consensual candidate.

And for once, there is hardly any regional or international pressure on the Lebanese, telling them what to do. For the first time in years, the Lebanese seem free to choose whomever they wish as president. But suitable candidates are nowhere to be seen.

The closest so far to a consensual candidate is Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, believed to have the largest Christian following in the country, and a long-time supporter of Hizbullah.

For the past few weeks, Aoun has been trying to mend fences with the Future Movement, led by Saad Al-Hariri. The Future Movement, with the largest bloc in parliament, doesn’t seem to mind Aoun, but it is likely to drive a hard bargain.

To win the support of the Future Movement, Aoun will have to promise two things. One is to get Hizbullah out of Syria and the other is to disarm Hizbullah, or at least to place its weapons under official control — something the Shia militia resisted for years.

Also, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is known for his close ties with Hizbullah, is said to object to Aoun’s candidacy.

The 8 March current hasn’t endorsed Aoun yet.

Aoun can, however, rely on some US support, as the Americans would like to see in power a Christian who has some leverage on Hizbullah.

But generally speaking, the problem of Hizbullah’s weapons is larger than Aoun, and he cannot possibly order the Shia group to bring back its militiamen from Syria.

Hizbullah, which hasn’t come up with a candidate so far, will make sure that the next president would be someone who is sympathetic to the resistance, and preferably capable of rallying the Christian community behind him. Aoun may claim to fit the bill, but he has many powerful enemies waiting to scuttle his chances.

As much as it is needed, a consensual president in Lebanon remains a distant possibility.

What this means is that once the term of President Michel Suleiman expires on 25 May, Lebanon could once again be staring into a political void.

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