As rival factions remain split over the election of a new president, labor union demands and the threat by the Union Coordination Committee to stage an intifada (uprising) if the public sector’s salary scale is not approved by Parliament have added further strain to the already tense political landscape.
This situation has raised questions as to whether priority should be given to the election of a president from within military ranks to deal with the unstable security situation in Lebanon or an economic expert to confront the adverse effects of the 3-year-old war in Syria on the country’s ailing economy.
Sources familiar with the situation in Lebanon said the country would remain in the intensive care unit pending a host of regional developments. The sources said the Omani mediation in January between Saudi Arabia and Iran that led to the formation of a coalition government in Lebanon, an agreement on its policy statement and it gaining Parliament’s vote of confidence had ended at this point.
Speaker Nabih Berri will not call for a Parliament session to elect a new president before an internal-regional consensus is secured over the identity of the next president, the sources said.
They added that fierce competition among the four Maronite leaders – former President Amine Gemayel, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, and Marada Movement head Sleiman Frangieh – over the presidency would leave political tension and polarization that might affect the government-approved security plan to restore law and order in the northern city of Tripoli and the northern Bekaa Valley.
While there is talk on the need to give priority to the security situation in choosing the next president, a development suggesting that attention is focused on Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and former Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, the sources said political circles were talking about “a competent president capable of administering the country’s sectors and who enjoys an economic vision that meets challenges facing Lebanon at various levels.”
Among these challenges, the sources cited the negative repercussions of the influx of more than 1 million Syrian refugees into Lebanon, the soaring public debt and the supervision of the financial and military assistance to the Lebanese state promised by the New York and Paris conferences of the International Support Group for Lebanon.
Although he denies supporting one presidential candidate at the expense of another, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai hinted to visitors at a set of candidates who, in his opinion, could run the country in the next stage with the minimum degree of damage, the sources said.
According to the sources, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt refuses to support any of the proposed candidates to the presidency. He also opposes a constitutional amendment and prefers the election of a centrist president who stands at the same distance from everyone.
Jumblatt, like Berri, supports a presidential candidate from north Lebanon, the sources said. During his recent visit to Paris, the PSP chief told French officials that he supported the election of this candidate. The names of three other candidates, including a high-ranking economist, were also discussed during Jumblatt’s talks in Paris, the sources said.
The sources added that some foreign diplomats in Beirut would like the next president to carry out the following mission: to pursue the National Dialogue launched by President Michel Sleiman, launch the process of oil exploration and administer this sector away from the logic of sharing spoils, reform the public administration by bringing to justice employees found guilty of irregularities and appointing qualified people in the right positions, lift political cover from gangs and militia leaders, and arrange for Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria as well as sponsor meetings between the party and the Future Movement.