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Lebanon News

Consensus in a divided world

  • File - The president 's chair is seen empty in Baabda, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

For the first time in years, ambiguity surrounds the Lebanese presidential election in both the Lebanese and international arena, making the poll open to all possibilities, including a presidential vacuum.

Such a void would be filled by the current national unity government, which brought together political parties with contradictory agendas.

Diplomatic sources say there is a pessimistic atmosphere over the vote, due to the belief that there will be no regional breakthroughs or settlement while the Arab world’s attention is focused on Syria, Bahrain, Iraq and Yemen.

According to the sources, there is a level of regional understanding about Lebanon, underscored by other countries’ interest in not letting the situation in the country deteriorate toward another civil war.

This attitude has also been made clear in the formation of Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s Cabinet, which includes March 8 and March 14 groups as well as centrists, and a desire to ensure the presidential election passes peacefully.

The sources say there is a clear understanding between members of the international community, particularly those in the International Support Group for Lebanon – which includes the Security Council’s permanent members – to prevent the outbreak of an intra-Lebanese conflict. They are trying to avoid this by paving the way for stability, supporting the national economy and boosting the capability of the Lebanese Army and other state security services.

This is evident in the understanding reached in March between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov regarding the importance of protecting Lebanon from the conflict in Syria. The two men found common ground on this matter despite their differences over Ukraine and many other issues.

It also became clear at the conference that Italy was expected to support the Lebanese Army, as were the statements and decisions of various other international and regional groups.

According to the sources, international powers are not expected to directly intervene in the presidential election in light of the Lebanese parties’ insistence on holding the poll according to the Constitution.

It is expected, however, that vigorous international efforts will be exerted to ensure the smooth running of the election, due to the fact that the constitutional requirement that the winning candidate receives 86 votes is unlikely to be fulfilled in the absence of consensus on who should fill the post.

Regarding last month’s Saudi-American summit, the sources pointed out that, according to information made available to them, the meetings dealt mostly with issues of common interest, including the situation in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as how to fight takfiri and terrorist groups.

They did not discuss the Lebanese presidential election, but agreed on the importance of maintaining stability in the country.

The sources suggest a situation in which international parties are seeking clarification on the current state of Lebanon, as evidenced by the questions posed by ambassadors in Lebanon during their talks with local leaders and politicians.

Regarding the war in Syria, the sources echo U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Ibrahimi’s comments on the difficulty of organizing a Geneva III conference, adding that some people felt that the rebels’ gains in Latakia and the regime’s victories in Yabroud might encourage efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

However, most of the sources believe the Syrian government will not agree to hold talks, since it is advancing on the ground and is confident of its capacity to deter the opposition’s attacks in Latakia and continue to Deraa and the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.

The Syrian opposition, on the other hand, feels that its apparent victory on the ground in rural Latakia will be an advantage during any negotiations.

Even so, the possibility of a Geneva III conference is very slight, and is likely to remain so unless the U.S. and Russia reach an agreement on the Syrian presidential elections.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 05, 2014, on page 2.
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Summary

For the first time in years, ambiguity surrounds the Lebanese presidential election in both the Lebanese and international arena, making the poll open to all possibilities, including a presidential vacuum.

According to the sources, there is a level of regional understanding about Lebanon, underscored by other countries' interest in not letting the situation in the country deteriorate toward another civil war.

Regarding last month's Saudi-American summit, the sources pointed out that, according to information made available to them, the meetings dealt mostly with issues of common interest, including the situation in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as how to fight takfiri and terrorist groups.

They did not discuss the Lebanese presidential election, but agreed on the importance of maintaining stability in the country.


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