Some politicians in Lebanon are linking the expected re-election of Syrian President Bashar Assad in June with the fate of Lebanon’s presidential election.
Meanwhile other Lebanese factions have accepted that a vacuum in the presidency is inevitable following the lack of progress in regional negotiations.
On the Syrian presidential elections, sources revealed that Lebanon’s Office of National Security has delivered a plan to the Syrian regime that was personally approved by Assad and which encapsulates two points.
The first is calming the military situation in a number of Syrian areas to a minimum of tension in order to facilitate compromises with the majority of Syrian opposition factions. The second aspect of the plan is to select a group of prominent nominees to compete with Assad in the elections, in order to undermine the opposition based abroad and reduce tensions on a number of fronts.
One of those included in the list of nominees is the former head of the opposition council, Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, who was promised by the regime that he would get at least 35 votes in Parliament, the vice presidency and a third of seats in the future Parliament for any party that he creates.
It appears that while Russia is adamant that Assad remain in power, Moscow is also interested in having a hand in the presidency in Lebanon, even under the guise of supporting a consensus president. In recent meetings, Russian diplomats clearly expressed the need to avoid a vacuum in the presidency and the need for the Lebanese to choose their president without listening to outside powers, while also creating the necessary atmosphere for the election.
Russian diplomats also say that in the event of a vacuum in the presidency, the current Cabinet could handle some of the essential issues in the president’s stead, revealing the extent of international involvement in the Lebanese file.
Due to the delays in choosing the new president and as a result of expressions of disappointment by Western powers including the Vatican, which insists on the importance of the Christian presidency, The Daily Star has learned that Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, along with other political leaders, are planning street demonstrations calling for the election of a new president. The protests will highlight the negative repercussions of a vacuum on the Lebanese economy and are expected to be well attended since Berri has influence over a number of professional syndicates.
There is an increased preference abroad to choose an “economic” president who is capable of putting an end to the economic crisis facing Lebanon and dealing with four fundamental issues of interest to the international community: the spiraling public debt, preparations for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Mediterranean, the expanding Syrian refugee crisis, and following up on the decisions of the international support group for Lebanon.
Who will be the president who handles these issues?