With the rival March 8 and March 14 coalitions unable to secure enough votes for their own candidates to win the presidency, former Minister Jean Obeid and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi are emerging as possible consensus candidates for the country’s top Christian post, political sources have said.
A number of senior politicians following the presidential election said the choice of consensus candidates had become confined to Obeid, who is currently on a visit to Saudi Arabia, and Kahwagi.
Both Obeid and Kahwagi enjoy support among some parliamentary blocs that are influential in the presidential polls and no party has vetoed them as potential consensus candidates, the politicians said.
Furthermore, foreign countries concerned with the presidential election are keen for the Lebanese to hold the election as soon as possible, the politicians said. They added that none of these countries has vetoed either of the two names.
Although they rule out the possibility of an intra-Lebanese consensus on Obeid or Kahwagi before May 25, when President Michel Sleiman will leave Baabda Palace at the end of his six-year term in office, the same politicians were certain that the election track was going in this direction.
However, it will take some time to convince the top Christian leaders in both the March 8 and March 14 parties of these choices, especially after these parties had failed to agree on a candidate, they said.
During Wednesday’s Parliament session, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the March 14-backed candidate, won 48 votes, well below the 86 votes that are required in the first round of voting to win the presidency.
Similarly, allies of Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, the assumed candidate of the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, have waited more than long enough for him to convince former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to support his bid for the presidency, but without luck.
Some MPs in the FPM told The Daily Star that contacts between Aoun and Hariri were still continuing. They said that they did not expect a negative or positive outcome from these contacts before the second round of presidential voting on April 30.
The MPs predicted that the required quorum – two thirds of the 128 lawmakers – would not be met during next week’s Parliament session, which would prompt Speaker Nabih Berri to adjourn the session again.
The FPM ministers believe the countdown for the presidential election will start as soon as Aoun gets Hariri’s final response, which is expected to be forthcoming soon.
If Hariri’s response is negative, the MPs said, Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc would begin – with its allies and other political parties – the search for a presidential candidate under agreements that could protect the interests of both the March 8 and March 14 alliances.
Meanwhile, a former minister and a current member of Parliament said that they did not rule out the possibility of parliamentary elections being held before the presidential vote if Parliament failed to elect a president before September and if no agreement was reached on Obeid or Kahwagi as possible consensus candidates.
The two, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the results of parliamentary elections might create a new situation that could break the intense political polarization between the March 8 and March 14 coalitions and ultimately secure a Parliament with a majority, making it capable of electing a president.
The unstable security conditions that prompted most parliamentary blocs – except Aoun’s – to agree to delay the parliamentary elections and extend Parliament’s mandate for 17 months, no longer existed, they said.
Noting that stability had been restored in the northern city of Tripoli, the fighting in the Syrian town of Qusair near the Lebanese border has ended, and the ongoing coordination between the Interior Ministry and Hezbollah on security issues, the MP and former minister said: “This is an additional factor that could help holding parliamentary elections under the current government even if there was a vacuum in the presidency seat.”
They added that holding parliamentary elections was conditional on the approval of a majority of the parliamentary blocs in government.