BEIRUT/AMCHIT: Saturday may be the last day of President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term in office, but it is unlikely to be the end of his political career.
According to sources familiar with the issue, 65-year-old Sleiman is seriously considering establishing a political gathering after he leaves office that could turn into a movement or a party.
Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, the sources said Sleiman would soon start exploring exactly what level of support he enjoys in Christian areas in Lebanon.
The group would highlight principles that Sleiman emphasized during his term, such as centrist politics, encouraging dialogue between Lebanese political factions, moderate stances regarding local, regional and international developments, and arms – i.e. Hezbollah’s – being placed under the exclusive authority of the state.
The gathering would initially compromise figures from Jbeil, Kesrouan and Metn that were close to Sleiman when he served as a president, the sources said.
Such a move would be in line with a tradition that emerged following Lebanon’s 1943 independence and saw some presidents continue to work in politics after the end of their term, pressing principles they championed during their tenure.
For example, at the end of his time in office, President Camille Chamoun founded the National Liberal Party, which emerged as one of the country’s prominent Christian parties in the following decades.
President Fouad Chehab also continued to have a major say in politics after his departure, hand-picking his successor Charles Helou to carry on his mission of political reform.
Pointing to Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt’s speech over the weekend praising centrism, the sources said it was also possible that a wide centrist political alliance would emerge in the future comprising Sleiman, former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Jumblatt and possibly Speaker Nabih Berri and former President Amine Gemayel.
The sources also did not rule out the possibility that Sleiman might become a minister in a future government formed to address any possible deterioration in security.
Sleiman could join the government along with Gemayel, Mikati, Jumblatt, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and others.
The sources added that Sleiman would definitely be among those invited to any National Dialogue session chaired by the new president or by Speaker Nabih Berri, as he brokered the Baabda Declaration that was adopted by the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League.
As he was able to forge strong ties with foreign and Arab countries during his term, another possibility is that Sleiman could be elected as the secretary-general of the Arab League or of the International Organization of La Francophonie.
A source close to Sleiman told The Daily Star that the president would address the Lebanese people in a farewell speech at Baabda Palace Saturday, the last day of his term.
MPs, ministers, diplomats, civil society representatives and others will be invited to the palace to listen to the midday farewell address.
Unlike his predecessor Emile Lahoud, who remained in Baabda Palace until midnight on the final day of his tenure, Sleiman is expected to leave the residence sometime during the afternoon.
Exactly six years after he was elected, Sleiman will receive supporters in his village of Amchit Sunday.
Like his predecessors Lahoud and late President Elias Hrawi, Sleiman will move to the posh Baabda suburb of Yarze, where he has purchased an apartment. The heavily guarded district is also home to the Defense Ministry.
In Amchit, locals expressed mixed feelings about Sleiman, with some saying he was a good president and others criticizing him for failing to improve his seafront hometown.
A drive through Amchit, for example, doesn’t show the massive construction projects that some Lebanese leaders have abused their powers to push through.
Sitting in his house, Butros Yousssef Qsaymi, the mukhtar of Amchit, described Sleiman’s term as normal. “Like he’s said, after he finishes his term, he will just relax.”
A man sitting at Qsaymi’s house, who asked to remain anonymous, said Sleiman was the president of the entire republic and could not work only for his village.
“He’s not an MP, he’s the president working for all of Lebanon,” he said. “You can’t accuse him of only doing things for the village.”
“He was a very good president. He’s good and better than anyone who will come after him,” added Choey Sarkis, who was sitting at the bar of his snack shop.
But two women sitting in the back of a clothing store finishing a meal appeared displeased when asked about Sleiman’s term.
“He was okay, he didn’t really do anything,” Maria said with a tone of disappointment.
“The country is the same as before,” Yasmine added.
“When he was the leader of the Army, he was great,” Maria said, referring to Sleiman’s previous post as an Army commander.
“As soon as someone gets in that position [of the presidency], they do as they please,” Yasmine said.
Rizkallah Abboud, the owner of a car repair shop in Amchit, said the village expected more benefits from having a native son as president. “Look around. Does this look like the village of a president?”
He said Lahoud had ensured a wide and cleanly paved highway was built from Nahr al-Mot to his Metn hometown of Baabdat.