President Michel Sleiman has resigned himself to the fact that his mandate will not be extended when it expires in May, despite the best efforts of a number of several powerful figures who support him, political sources told The Daily Star.
The countdown to the end of his term has begun, and political and diplomatic circles have already started discussing possible successors, the sources said, adding, however, that much will depend on regional developments between now and May, particularly regarding the crisis in Syria.
Sleiman has reportedly begun launching heated attacks against a particular political party over its blatant rejection of and disregard for the Baabda Declaration, accusing them of “trickery.” Those close to him say that Sleiman’s frankness indicates that he has given up on a new term. Moreover, both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have indefinitely postponed his visits, another sign that the clock on his tenure is ticking and unlikely to be rewound.
Perhaps even more telling, most Christian political leaders and the Maronite patriarch have all publicly called for holding presidential elections on time. Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai has taken pains to affirm his support for the president while emphasizing his rejection of the extension on grounds of principle and constitutionality. Christian political circles have indicated that a handful of Future Movement MPs who want Sleiman’s term extended are not enough, adding that they will never be able to achieve a two-thirds quorum needed in Parliament to approve it.
Sleiman has reportedly told those close to him that he would not pursue an extension or renewal of his own mandate, but would make use of the rest of his term by continuing with his official duties. In fact, sources close to the president say Sleiman has taken a new approach to the internal political stalemate, using official visits, ribbon-cuttings, luncheons and events to speak more candidly than he had in the past.
He has also decided to pursue a new approach to the political stalemate by carrying out his duties while ignoring the Mikati caretaker government as much as possible. For example, earlier this week he chaired a high-level security meeting at which neither caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel nor caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn were in attendance, despite the fact that Charbel had met with Sleiman that very day at the presidential palace.
The same political sources see this “new method” of ignoring Mikati’s caretaker government will end with Sleiman refusing to cede power to a resigned government if they are unable to elect his successor. However, visitors to Baabda Palace have argued that this would be unconstitutional because the decree accepting Mikati’s resignation must be issued at the same time as the decrees appointing the prime minister-designate and announcing the formation of a government, suggesting that the current government is still legal. These procedures have been in place since independence in order to guard against a vacuum in the executive branch, the visitors have stressed.
Neither the office of the president nor sources close to him have denied comments attributed to the president regarding the “unconstitutionality” of Mikati’s government. The caretaker prime minister, for his part, has not commented on Sleiman’s attacks, with sources at the Grand Serail describing the atmosphere as one of “stony silence.”
Other sources say Sleiman’s comments on Mikati’s government echo the fears of his advisers, who are pushing the president to sign decrees establishing a fait accompli government just before his mandate ends.