Despite the abundance of political discussions concerning the presidential elections, the issue has nonetheless become monotonous. Wednesday’s Parliament session will not have the necessary quorum, and so a vote will not take place as it did last week – Speaker Nabih Berri is calling it simply because it’s his job. In Riyadh, there have been a significant number of meetings related to Lebanon’s presidential election. Presidential candidate Jean Obeid took part for a while but has now left, while Health Minister Wael Abu Faour has arrived as part of Progressive Socialist Party head Walid Jumblatt’s delegation. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is leading a series of discussions concerning the proposed candidates.
Those within the Future Movement’s circles are being secretive about the nature of these discussions, however, especially given the growing possibility of a presidential vacuum as time runs out.
“We are looking to complete the presidential election before May 25. Contacts carried out by Hariri are a continuation of the March 14 group’s efforts to participate in this democratic election in Beirut, and the coalition is hoping that all parliamentary blocs will participate and secure a quorum and elect a new president of the republic,” one notable MP said.
But a new factor could yet open the door for consensus in Lebanon: Hezbollah’s pulling back from the fighting in neighboring Syria, an essential demand that March 14, along with powerful regional states such as Saudi Arabia, are holding onto.
“The suggestion is serious and it is being discussed behind the curtains by Hezbollah according to what the political phase in Lebanon requires as well as the developments in the Syrian crisis, most notably the presidential election [there] on June 3,” one prominent Lebanese politician said.
March 8 parties, especially Hezbollah, are refusing to be held accountable or to be blamed for causing a lack of quorum in Parliament. Instead, they say there are still no acceptable solutions on the ground, as the party does not think that March 14 is serious in its backing of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.
“Samir Geagea nominated himself, and then positions of support from March 14 emerged one day before the latest session, and he only received 48 votes, meaning he did not receive all of his team’s votes,” a high-ranking Hezbollah official said.
“Today, we are on the threshold of a new session and we have not yet been notified that March 14 still supports Geagea or whether it will nominate another person.”
The official indirectly suggested that current talks with the Future Movement were leaning toward the notion that no known candidates from either side would make it to the presidency, but rather a new consensus candidate would emerge in accordance with developments in the region and in the country.
In the background of all of these talks are the thawing ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are undergoing discussions related to redrawing the political map in the Middle East. Topics include the Lebanese presidential election, the Syrian conflict, the situation in Iraq and the Palestinian leadership in light of the recent reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
The Hezbollah official did not respond to questions about whether he preferred Obeid or Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi as a presidential candidate. He instead stressed that the party and the whole March 8 group were supporting Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and his decisions, especially as the latter has said that he will not officially nominate himself except as a consensus candidate.
The management of the voting sessions and the issue of securing a quorum is in the hands of Berri, who is well-informed of the various parliamentary blocs’ inclinations.
The official also pointed out that Berri was undergoing serious discussions with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai to ensure Bkirki approved of the president, as the next stage is to reassure Christians and their growing concerns regarding their political situation amid growing Sunni-Shiite strife in the region.
For Berri, things seem calm and his interactions indicate stagnation as he awaits new developments. Those close to him reiterated the suggestion that polls would take place in mid-May so long as a quorum was secured and the candidate secured half the votes plus one. Berri’s circle also did not rule out the possibility of a presidential vacuum while Lebanon goes through such a delicate period.