Druze leader Walid Jumblatt appears to be making progress in his fight to bring all Lebanese factions together to elect a new president, with a surprising proposal that is nonetheless gaining traction.
Jumblatt has proposed a one-time constitutional amendment to shorten the presidential term to three years in exchange for electing a president from outside the March 8 and March 14 political coalitions, an informed political source told The Daily Star.
The source said that this plan for an internal agreement began with Jumblatt’s meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri, who is concerned for the fate of the constitutional institutions if politicians continue to pursue their own narrow interests at the expense of the state. The crisis in Arsal appears to have awakened politicians to the need to shore up the Lebanese state, Army and security forces in the face of widespread regional instability.
Jumblatt has taken it upon himself to spearhead an internal dialogue, but has attempted to keep the specifics of his negotiations a secret for fear of undermining his own efforts. In addition to shortening the presidential term, Jumblatt’s proposal calls for holding parliamentary elections according to a “modern law” that would improve democratic representation. It rejects the extension of Parliament’s mandate before an agreement is reached on the presidential election.
The proposal also calls for updating the law of political parties to include “safety valves” to prevent the eruption of civil strife and ease political tensions on the street. According to this logic, political differences should be kept in the political arena. Political platforms should be formulated with the sincere intention of increasing legitimate popular support and giving a voice to marginalized groups that now have no choice but to resort to disruptive tactics in order to get their voices heard, as evidenced by the ongoing strikes over the wage scale.
The proposal calls for developing and updating the capabilities of the Lebanese Army and other security agencies. More recruits should be hired, and a new leadership council appointed as part of a comprehensive national security policy, rather than a series of ad hoc regional “security plans.”
Jumblatt has reportedly taken to calling this interim three-year president a “salvation president” in an effort to convey the importance of electing a new head of state. In this vein, Jumblatt has recommended the election of former Minister Jean Obeid, which, he has reportedly insisted, would strengthen Lebanon to face the “regional earthquake” and allow time to resolve the internal Lebanese political sphere.
So far, most political parties have expressed openness to this plan, although most are preoccupied with regional and international developments, particularly the American proposal for an international coalition to fight ISIS.
However, the main obstacle, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, the unofficial candidate of the March 8 bloc, remains. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah reportedly told Jumblatt in their meeting that Aoun would have to approve any agreement on the presidency.
According to the source, the meeting between Aoun and Jumblatt in Rabieh was not entirely positive, as Aoun continues to cling to the idea of direct elections in two phases. He also is not convinced that the regional conditions are ripe for an internal agreement, despite efforts to improve Saudi-Iranian relations and an Egyptian initiative to bridge the gap between the Assad regime and Saudi Arabia.
The sources said former Prime Minister Saad Hariri agreed in theory to shorten the presidential term. Jumblatt and Berri are also awaiting preliminary approval from Riyadh and Paris to go forward with their plan.