TRIPOLI, Lebanon: The recent announcement from Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi that he would not be standing in the upcoming parliamentary elections has sent shockwaves across the political spectrum.
Many question how this would affect the government over the next few months and how it could change the dynamics of the elections in the northern city of Tripoli.
The reactions from Safadi’s and Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s quarters have been mostly vague and both officials have refused to formally comment on the implications of his decision.
Both Safadi and Mikati won their seats in Parliament in an electoral alliance with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Tripoli.
While the alliance was severed following the collapse of Hariri’s government last year, Mikati has been aiming for a quiet rapprochement with the Future Movement to raise his popularity within the Sunni community throughout Lebanon.
Since Tripoli is key in deciding the majority in the 2013 elections, Safadi’s choice not to run could ignite a new battle between the Hariri and Mikati campaigns.
Speaking to reporters following a Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail last week, Safadi announced that he had no intention to run for a parliamentary seat, but failed to say whether he would completely distance himself from national politics.
Key political figures have so far refused to comment on Safadi’s statements and the message behind his refusal to run for a seat again. Sports and Youth Minister Faisal Karami and his Tripoli colleague in government, State Minister Ahmad Karami, have maintained a cautious silence on the matter.
While there is a lot of criticism of Safadi within the Future Movement, no open statement has been made so far in such a vein. But sources close to the political bloc say that Safadi is considered a “traitor” to the movement since he had allied himself with Hariri in the parliamentary elections of 2005 and 2009.
The same cautious attitude is present among sources close to Mikati, who say the prime minister is still hoping Safadi will change his mind, and form an electoral alliance in 2013 against Hariri’s bloc in Tripoli.
The sources also deny that Safadi’s decision not to run is due to disagreements between him and Mikati.
Recent rumors have claimed that Safadi is unhappy with Mikati’s recent political maneuvers, believing that the prime minister has been working to marginalize Safadi both within the government and among the Sunni community by extending the government’s hand to the Future Movement instead.
However, former Tripoli MP Misbah al-Ahdab told The Daily Star that Safadi’s decision was an attempt to weaken Mikati by sending a double-message to the March 14 and March 8 coalitions that he was ready to replace Mikati as prime minister and form a neutral government that would oversee next year’s parliamentary elections.
Ahdab said it was unlikely the 2013 polls would take place on time given the sporadic violence erupting in Lebanon. “For the time being, it is not possible to build alliances, as they could completely change due to the uncertain political situation.”