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Hezbollah mulls presidential election options

The president 's chair is seen empty in Baabda, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

The road toward Beirut’s southern suburbs is now easier, and the distance between central Beirut and Hezbollah’s stronghold has become shorter, not only geographically but also politically.

Why? Because the party leadership feels that many of the obstacles have been removed, and it is taking great comfort in its victories over “takfiri” groups in Syria and its destruction of an alleged car-rigging den behind the recent blasts in the country.All of this comes in the wake of the Cabinet’s securing of a vote of confidence from Parliament, adoption of the ministerial statement, and its acknowledgement of the role of the resistance and the importance of power sharing. All that remains now is the presidential election, which is currently being studied by Hezbollah’s leadership carefully and slowly, as it is linked to regional factors.

Lebanon entered the constitutional period to elect a president only a few days ago, which reshuffled Hezbollah’s priorities as it plays a large role in the process.

Facing the Israeli enemy was at the top of the party’s agenda during the 2006 war, and remains so now, on top of which they are facing security problems in the south. Then came the Syrian conflict and the emergence of fundamentalist groups that the party’s military wing made a point of eliminating in Syria’s Yabroud and the wider Qalamoun region, which is close to the Bekaa Valley. Such missions are considered sacred, according to Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s statement following the spate of car bombs and terrorist attacks: “We know you by your names, and we will get to you no matter the cost.”

Those familiar with Hezbollah know the importance of such a statement, which led to a professional operation aimed at ruining a car-rigging den 13 kilometers away from the Lebanese border (on which the party’s leaders said not a word, but just smiled broadly).

The presidential election is being followed up on in detail and Hezbollah’s leadership is working on studying the possibilities with extreme care while respecting the constitutional period. One of the scenarios it is preparing for is the possibility of a presidential vacuum, and it is following up with other parliamentary blocs on the issue.

Hezbollah has a particular way of dealing with elections. One party official pointed out that as long as Lebanese political parties helped smooth things in the domestic arena and prevented the country from becoming a center of Sunni-Shiite strife, Hezbollah would in turn make local matters easier and clear potential obstacles. The party’s beliefs, the official said, are focused on the idea that the Syria war is associated with takfiri beliefs that are seen to be far from Islam, and that the conflict next door was not about confronting Sunni influences.

“We have accepted the hawks from the other side, [Nouhad] Machnouk and [Ashraf] Rifi, as heads of the Interior and Justice ministries because we are extending a hand toward real partnership with the Future Movement and we respect its choices and individuals,” the official said. “Let us stand against the takfiri wave whose fire will devour everyone; we are ready for more steps for the sake of Lebanese stability.”

Concerning the presidential election, the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc is studying matters along with Hezbollah’s political leaders before taking the right stance, but measures are currently limited to communication with local and regional actors. There are two options being discussed within the party.

The first involves leaving the election process to run its own course by allowing March 8 and March 14 to nominate a presidential candidate each. This would likely create a scenario similar to the 1970 elections, which former President Sleiman Frangieh won by one vote. That election saw the founder of the Progressive Socialist Party, the late Kamal Jumblatt, divide his party’s votes between Frangieh and fellow candidate Elias Sarkis, with his own vote tipping the balance. Ironically, his son Walid Jumblatt is now playing the same role.

The second option would rely on the “Jean or Jean” formula and would involve an agreement on a consensus candidate to help Lebanon make it through this difficult phase with the least damage possible. This might necessitate amending the Constitution in order to elect Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi – who technically should resign six months before taking up the post – or else agreeing on someone else. This person would be outside the usual political partisanship and would enjoy good relations with influential countries – former Foreign Minister Jean Obeid seems particularly appropriate in this respect.

A March 8 MP said Change and Reform bloc leader Michel Aoun had received a Saudi message stating: “We do not stand against Christian aspirations in Lebanon to beget a strong Christian president who would help pass the storms and relieve the damages as much as possible.”

This has apparently titillated Aoun’s political aspirations to seize the presidential chair and has made him feel as if he is moving ahead of March 14’s most obvious contender, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

All that remains now is the presidential election, which is currently being studied by Hezbollah's leadership carefully and slowly, as it is linked to regional factors.

Those familiar with Hezbollah know the importance of such a statement, which led to a professional operation aimed at ruining a car-rigging den 13 kilometers away from the Lebanese border (on which the party's leaders said not a word, but just smiled broadly).

The presidential election is being followed up on in detail and Hezbollah's leadership is working on studying the possibilities with extreme care while respecting the constitutional period.

Hezbollah has a particular way of dealing with elections.

Concerning the presidential election, the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc is studying matters along with Hezbollah's political leaders before taking the right stance, but measures are currently limited to communication with local and regional actors.


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