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Hezbollah letting Berri do the talking on election

  • File - Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads a Parliament session in Beirut, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

Although Parliament is scheduled to convene Wednesday to try to elect a new president, Hezbollah’s top leaders appear to be more preoccupied with the upcoming legislative elections in Iraq and the June 3 presidential battle in Syria than the Lebanese presidential vote, political sources said.

Despite a flurry of political activity and intense meetings held by various parliamentary blocs to decide on their candidates on the eve of the parliamentary session, neither the Hezbollah command nor its parliamentary bloc has so far met to make a decision on the presidential election.

Instead, Hezbollah’s lawmakers were tasked with commenting on Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s candidacy or reaffirming the party’s alliance with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and its support for the choice of Marada leader MP Sleiman Frangieh as a possible presidential candidate, even though this oral confirmation – in the eyes of March 8 allies – is not sufficient, the sources said.

In an attempt to avoid being portrayed as playing the obstructionist role, Hezbollah has left it to its March 8 allies, namely Speaker Nabih Berri, to hammer out a possible presidential compromise from outside the March 8 and March 14 coalitions, even if it takes some time. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said in a speech recently: “There is a chance to elect a president.”

Berri, who has set Wednesday as the first Parliament session to elect a new president, will work with various parliamentary blocs to secure a two-thirds quorum of the 128-member legislature despite his belief that a regional deal over the Lebanese presidential election is still in its initial phase.

Also, Berri is fully aware that Geagea, one of only two declared candidates for the presidency, is unable to muster two-thirds of the votes to win the presidency in the first round of voting.

Despite the ambiguity surrounding the presidential vote, the name of Lebanon’s next president is in Berri’s pocket, an Arab diplomatic source told The Daily Star.

The speaker is seeking to reach consensus with local parties on the name of this presidential candidate since the United States, France, Saudi Arabia and Iran are also trying to pave the way for a presidential vote that would insulate Lebanon from regional tensions and the repercussions of the 3-year-old crisis in Syria, the source said.

He added that in Berri’s view it would be unwise to disclose the name of this candidate at this time, because doing so would expose him to the risk of being eliminated from the race, as often happens with other early candidacies.

Given the overt coordination between Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt over the election and their common belief that a regional compromise would eventually decide the result in favor of a consensus candidate, it is natural not to propose the name of this candidate now and instead work to promote him for the decisive parliamentary session.

So far, no final decisions have been made by the March 14 and March 8 parties on the presidential election, despite the Future Movement’s declared support for Geagea’s candidacy.

The Future Movement’s support for Geagea’s candidacy did not encompass the March 14 Christian side that includes a number of presidential hopefuls such as Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel.

Parliamentary sources expected a two-third quorum to be secured with the participation of March 8 and March 14 lawmakers along with centrist MPs. But the inability of any presidential candidate to win the votes of 86 MPs in the first round of voting would prompt Berri to adjourn the parliamentary session to a later date, the sources said.

“It is not easy to predict the voting mechanism of the first session, even though it is taken for granted that such a session will not lead to the election of a president as long as Geagea may not win more than 59 votes, the bulk of which is from the Future Movement,” the sources said.

While the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition will cast blank ballots during Wednesday’s parliamentary session in line with Aoun’s wish, Jumblatt, who has distanced himself from the March 8 and March 14 coalitions, will register a political stance with around 12 or 13 votes for his parliamentary bloc’s presidential candidate, MP Henry Helou.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 23, 2014, on page 3.
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Summary

Although Parliament is scheduled to convene Wednesday to try to elect a new president, Hezbollah's top leaders appear to be more preoccupied with the upcoming legislative elections in Iraq and the June 3 presidential battle in Syria than the Lebanese presidential vote, political sources said.

Instead, Hezbollah's lawmakers were tasked with commenting on Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea's candidacy or reaffirming the party's alliance with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and its support for the choice of Marada leader MP Sleiman Frangieh as a possible presidential candidate, even though this oral confirmation – in the eyes of March 8 allies – is not sufficient, the sources said.

The inability of any presidential candidate to win the votes of 86 MPs in the first round of voting would prompt Berri to adjourn the parliamentary session to a later date, the sources said.


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