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What is needed,a fireman or a firestarter?

File - President Michel Sleiman speaks during an interview with The Daily Star at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Wednesday, March 14, 2012. (The Daily Star/Grace Kassab)

By forming a committee of members from his Development and Liberation parliamentary bloc, Speaker Nabih Berri has taken the first of many steps needed to successfully hold the presidential election before President Michel Sleiman’s mandate expires on May 25.

The role of the committee, which includes MPs Ali Osseiran, Yassine Jaber and Michel Moussa, is to ensure the presidential election is held on time.In order for a presidential candidate to get through the first round of voting, he needs two-thirds of Parliament’s votes. In the second round, the candidate just needs to secure an absolute majority of votes, or the backing of at least 65 out of the 128 MPs.

Since the beginning of the constitutional period to elect a new president for Lebanon Tuesday, the overriding feeling among Lebanese politicians is that the poll needs to be held on time in order to prevent a presidential vacuum. This sentiment is being echoed by various Western and regional ambassadors.

Such international pressure on the Lebanese to elect a new president is similar to what eventually happened with the government formation issue, whereby a wide cross-regional consensus emerged that a Cabinet should be created as soon as possible. Of course, when conflicts arose between the influential blocs due to the placing of tough conditions, the arrangement led to a significant delay in the government’s formation. However, once an agreement was reached, all demands and conditions evaporated.

While Lebanon waits for the results of the committee’s efforts to ensure the full attendance of all the parliamentary blocs at the election sessions, speculation is rife over which Maronite figure will take over Baabda Palace in two months’ time.

It appears as though the possibility of Sleiman keeping the presidency, whether via an extension or a renewal of his mandate, is no longer on the table. Not only has Sleiman himself said he is against the idea, but it has become apparent that both international and Arab players, including Hezbollah, do not favor it.

Centrist political sources close to a senior official believe that what is required at this point is a president who can soothe the various tensions between the country’s Sunnis and Shiites. Change and Reform leader Michel Aoun and head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea, from March 8 and March 14 respectively, would only inflame the situation further, the sources added.

The sources also pointed to a campaign launched by the March 14 parliamentary bloc, particularly the Future Movement, during the policy statement debate in which it accused the Army of targeting Sunnis in Tripoli and Arsal. March 14 sees Kahwagi, who is currently spearheading a drive to arrest terrorists behind the recent attacks on the country, as guilty of this and are trying to hinder his presidency bid.

The most likely candidate is one accepted by both the Maronite sect and Muslim MPs, much like Prime Minister Tammam Salam, who created a compromise that helped in the Cabinet formation.

The sources believe that the role of domestically influential Western and regional capitals could be limited to vetoing a candidate. Rather than demanding specific people, they are expected to leave the country to choose their future president freely.

In this regard, the sources pointed to the possibility of an agreement between the Christian parties on two or three candidates who would be able to address the growing Sunni-Shiite conflict in Lebanon, someone who enjoys credibility both at home and abroad to fulfill the required goals during this sensitive time.

But of course, all of these things need time, the sources said, suggesting that because of this the presidential election will not occur until the beginning of May at the earliest.

Sources pointed to the recent communication between Aoun and former premier Saad Hariri, which although it did not include any promise from the Future Movement head to vote for the Free Patriotic Movement leader, did include something of a pledge to attend the voting sessions. This is key for there to be a quorum in case the presidential race comes down to a highly divisive contest between Aoun and Geagea.

According to media reports, Aoun is confident that he can formulate an agreement before or during the crucial session with Progressive Socialist Movement head Walid Jumblatt regarding a number of issues including the electoral law. In return, reports say, Jumblatt will not vote for Geagea and Aoun will get the votes of Jumblatt’s MPs, which should tip the balance.

In case of a miracle, i.e. an agreement between the main Christian powers on a candidate, only one scenario will remain: the election of that person.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 27, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

The role of the committee, which includes MPs Ali Osseiran, Yassine Jaber and Michel Moussa, is to ensure the presidential election is held on time.In order for a presidential candidate to get through the first round of voting, he needs two-thirds of Parliament's votes.

Change and Reform leader Michel Aoun and head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea, from March 8 and March 14 respectively, would only inflame the situation further, the sources added.

Of course, all of these things need time, the sources said, suggesting that because of this the presidential election will not occur until the beginning of May at the earliest.

Sources pointed to the recent communication between Aoun and former premier Saad Hariri, which although it did not include any promise from the Future Movement head to vote for the Free Patriotic Movement leader, did include something of a pledge to attend the voting sessions.

According to media reports, Aoun is confident that he can formulate an agreement before or during the crucial session with Progressive Socialist Movement head Walid Jumblatt regarding a number of issues including the electoral law.


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