Lebanon News

Rival parties mull ways to navigate the vacuum

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

BEIRUT: With President Michel Sleiman’s mandate set to expire soon, it seems Lebanon is heading toward a presidential vacuum.

The probable outcome is reflected in the monotonous attitude expressed by members of the parliamentary blocs in Parliament in Nijmeh Square, who have realized that, as a result of both internal and regional complications, the presidential post is likely to be vacant starting this month until the beginning of the fall.

“We have to work to find a solution for this problem,” an MP and one of Speaker Nabih Berri’s aides said. “Particularly [considering] that everybody has reached a dead end when it comes to the options available for the presidential election,” he told The Daily Star.

Berri is technically in control of achieving a quorum and he determines the path of negotiations to reach a compromise, as it is obvious that neither a March 8 nor a March 14 figure could make it to Baabda Palace.

The aide, who wished to remain anonymous, doesn’t deny that a miracle is still possible as a result of intensified contacts in Beirut, Riyadh, Tehran, Damascus, Paris, Moscow and Washington that could lead to the election of a president before May 25, the day Sleiman’s term expires. But miracles are often hard to come by.

If there is a presidential vacuum, action should be taken to ensure damage control; this is what many political leaders are currently working toward.

“The region is being arranged again based on regional and international calculations,” the aide said. “Those who are following Arab world news know exactly what’s happening: Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been re-elected ... on a wheelchair, supported by an army force and he is in control of the political life there; Egypt’s former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is making his way toward the Egyptian presidency.”

“On the other hand, the point of convergence between Russia, the U.S. and Iran in Syria lies mainly in maintaining the unity and cohesion of the Syrian army,” the source added.

While the prospect of selecting a president during Wednesday’s Parliament session remains unlikely, one positive sign is the ongoing discussions by political leaders to find a way out of the impasse. The source said that everybody was aware of the need for agreement.

In contrast to Nijmeh Square, the situation in the southern suburbs of Beirut is anything but monotonous, as it appears Hezbollah’s leadership is closely following the political process in Iraq and preparations for the Syrian presidential election slated for June 3. Bashar Assad is widely expected to win.

Negotiations surrounding the Iranian nuclear file are Hezbollah’s major concern, especially as an understanding is expected to be reached between the United States and Iran.

In this respect, a senior Hezbollah official said that Saudi Arabia was working on bridging differences and maintaining peace in the Arab world. However, he said, the sensitive issue of Hezbollah’s arsenal has yet to be broached.

Former Foreign Minister Jean Obeid is for the time being remaining silent. He previously announced that he was not running in the presidential election. However, this did not stop his name from emerging as a potential consensus candidate.

Based on political sources, the selection of Obeid’s name as a candidate isn’t surprising: it has emerged on numerous occasions in the past 25 years – specifically at fateful crossroads in Lebanon’s history, such as 1990 and 1998 – due to his wide connections and his dialogue-based politics.

He also established good external connections during his time as foreign minister. For instance, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal referred to him as “The wise [one] of the Arab foreign ministers,” due to the role he played in fostering consensus during difficult times.

Still, Obeid’s positive characteristics did not prevent a series of personal attacks aiming to taint his reputation. Though launched by particular political groups, they will not affect his chances of becoming a consensus president.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 06, 2014, on page 3.




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