The extension of President Michel Sleiman’s six-year-term in office, which expires in May next year, appears to be unlikely if not impossible for now because there are influential blocs in Parliament that have categorically decided not to renew his mandate, according to a number of lawmakers.
Similarly, the impression a journalist comes out with after chatting with lawmakers from different political factions during the recent meetings of parliamentary committees is that it is difficult – if not impossible – to see the birth of a new government in the foreseeable future. That is, unless this Cabinet is a recipe for a new crisis, instead of providing a solution to the months-long impasse.
The lawmakers, who belong to various parliamentary blocs, are almost unanimous that the problem of Syrian refugees has gone beyond the state’s means to resolve it and that the sedatives used to heal these ills have not been useful.
On the contrary, if the problem of Syrian refugees in Lebanon – estimated at more than 1 million – remains unsolved, it might trigger all manner of clashes between Lebanese and Syrians, whether this arises from political tension or economic pressure caused by competition over job opportunities.
A number of these lawmakers see that caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, before and after he resigned on March 22, partially bears responsibility for the worsening problem of Syrian refugees.
Since Syrians began flooding into Lebanon to flee the war in their country, Mikati was aware that the refugee crisis would intensify and the officials concerned with this issue had informed him of the situation, the lawmakers said.
They added that solutions to the refugee problem remained in the framework of statements and wishes to Arab and Western countries to help Lebanon. But these countries are not responding favorably to these wishes for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that they no longer trust the way financial aid is handled in Lebanon.
These countries have decided to oversee how the money they are giving is being spent, something that has led to delaying if not halting the aid, the lawmakers said.
In touching on the six-month-old Cabinet formation crisis, the lawmakers disagreed over who was responsible for the deadlock in the government formation.
However, as Sleiman’s mandate is drawing to a close, they agreed that three hot political issues have become interrelated: The presidential elections, the Cabinet formation and a new election law.
According to the lawmakers, the current situation needs “a new Doha Accord” made in Lebanon due to the fact that there is no Arab or Western country ready to host the rival Lebanese factions to resolve their problems similar to what happened in Doha, Qatar, in May 2008.
The MPs say there is a conviction that the extension of Sleiman’s mandate is ruled out – if not impossible – because there are influential parties in Parliament that have taken an irreversible decision not to renew the president’s term.
Although Sleiman had repeatedly said he was not seeking to have his mandate extended, those close to him, particularly former ministers Khalil Hrawi and Naji Boustany, are coordinating with him to persuade influential parties to endorse such an extension.
Though a number of lawmakers have hinted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s expected visit to Saudi Arabia might clear the way for facilitating next year’s presidential election, they stress that this would not result in a renewal of Sleiman’s term, but rather in choosing a successor to him.
Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi is probably a possible candidate. Given his good relations with everyone in Lebanon and the absence of objections by Western countries, Kahwagi stands a bigger chance than other candidates to be the next president.