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Lack of regional consensus makes presidential vote on April 23 unlikely

File - Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri speaks during a Parliament session in Beirut, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Despite Speaker Nabih Berri’s call to convene Parliament on April 23 to elect a president, the prospects are high that the presidential election will not be held on time.

This is largely due to a lack of a regional consensus over who will be the new head of state in Lebanon, parliamentary sources said Thursday.

Most lawmakers from various blocs agree that next week’s Parliament session will not lead to the election of a new president unless a miracle occurs, something that does not seem to be in the offing.

The lawmakers ruled out the possibility of a lack of a constitutional quorum of 86 MPs because it would be difficult for the country’s main Maronite candidates to bear the responsibility for boycotting the session.

The four main Maronite leaders – former President Amine Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party; Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun; Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea; and Zghorta MP Sleiman Frangieh who heads the Marada Movement – have agreed during a recent meeting in Bkirki chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai on one thing: to attend the election session and let the democratic game take its course.

Therefore, it would be difficult for the four Maronite leaders to boycott the election session because they would lose political and popular support, and their credibility would also be at stake.

The same lawmakers say that the presence in Parliament of Christian MPs directly involved in the presidential issue would automatically be followed by the presence of Muslim MPs to ensure a quorum for the first session to elect a new president.

Should a quorum be secured in the first round of the parliamentary session, voting on a new president would definitely take place. However, none of the declared or undeclared candidates would be able to win a two-thirds majority, unless some unexpected development happened inside the session as a result of foreign understanding that convinced lawmakers to elect a consensus president.

This situation raises two possibilities: Either Berri immediately calls for a second round of voting which requires an absolute majority of the votes of 65 MPs for a candidate to win the presidency, or he adjourns the session for further consultations, which is most likely to happen.

Further complicating the presidential situation is the fact that the March 14 parties have not yet decided on their own candidate for the country’s top post.

In addition to Geagea, who has already announced he will run for president, the March 14 coalition has several candidates, including Gemayel, who will announce his candidacy in the next few days.

Gemayel has informed former Prime Minister Saad Hariri that he could not vote for Geagea if the Future Movement or the March 14 parties decided to support his own candidacy.

March 8 sources said the parties in this coalition might propose during next week’s Parliament session the name of MP Emile Rahmeh against the March 14 candidate after making sure that none of the candidates would be able to get the two-thirds majority of the lawmakers’ votes needed to win the presidency.

The sources said that next week’s Parliament session would be a serious starting point for later contacts and consultations before the expiry of the two-month constitutional deadline on May 25 to elect a president, so that lawmakers can go to the election session knowing beforehand who the next president would be.

Meanwhile, an undeclared candidate to the presidency, who enjoys sufficient support to make him a serious contender, ruled out holding the presidential election on May 25.

The candidate said that Geagea’s declared candidacy to and Aoun’s undeclared nomination block the road at this stage to the possibility of reaching understanding on a certain candidate.

The two leaders’ allies have not yet reached the stage of abandoning their candidates.

While the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance will not abandon Aoun, the March 14 coalition for its part will not abandon its candidate.

The same source said that regional developments and their impact on the presidential election made him believe the election would not take place on time.

A thaw in Saudi-Iranian relations, which led to the formation of the current Cabinet, has not yet reached the point of forging understanding or an agreement on the name of Lebanon’s next president, the source said.

According to the source, there are two key issues that push in favor of postponing the presidential election until the end of summer: the presidential election in Syria, whether the legitimacy of President Bashar Assad would be renewed, or if he would stay in power without a legitimate cover until an agreement was reached between the West and Iran on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Another factor that could delay holding the presidential election on time is the developments in Ukraine that might push Russia to toughen its position on Syria and the region, the source said.

Once these matters have been overcome, the source said, “serious discussions will begin on the person who will stay at Baabda Palace over the next six years.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 18, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Despite Speaker Nabih Berri's call to convene Parliament on April 23 to elect a president, the prospects are high that the presidential election will not be held on time.

The same lawmakers say that the presence in Parliament of Christian MPs directly involved in the presidential issue would automatically be followed by the presence of Muslim MPs to ensure a quorum for the first session to elect a new president.

March 8 sources said the parties in this coalition might propose during next week's Parliament session the name of MP Emile Rahmeh against the March 14 candidate after making sure that none of the candidates would be able to get the two-thirds majority of the lawmakers' votes needed to win the presidency.

The sources said that next week's Parliament session would be a serious starting point for later contacts and consultations before the expiry of the two-month constitutional deadline on May 25 to elect a president, so that lawmakers can go to the election session knowing beforehand who the next president would be.

Meanwhile, an undeclared candidate to the presidency, who enjoys sufficient support to make him a serious contender, ruled out holding the presidential election on May 25 .


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