Michel Sleiman’s mandate ends this weekend, and Lebanon will enter a period of presidential vacuum – one might be tempted to talk about “uncharted waters,” but the unfortunate fact is it will be the third such time in many people’s memory.
If the aftermaths of the failed presidential elections of 1988 and 2007 are any guide, a flare-up of civil strife should be expected. Unlike these previous instances, the fact that Syria is in the throes of war only complicates the situation.
Politicians are entitled to engage in all of the politicking they want as they try to influence the election, provided that their struggle is not translated into violence in the streets. They, and especially the Cabinet of Prime Minister Tammam Salam, should make the security situation their prime concern to help Lebanon weather the storm of a presidential vacancy.
Despite the gridlock, recent statements by Saudi officials have raised expectations, generating hope some desperately needed economic activity would emerge this summer in the form of tourism.
Whether it is summer or winter, if officials can prevent the economic situation from deteriorating, there is a chance that the Lebanese can make it through the upcoming period of political stalemate. The security situation is the underpinning of the economy, and a single incident might be enough to ruin the improvements of recent months. If politicians are unable to come to grips with the “formulas” of how to elect a president, they should at least realize that the most important formula for many Lebanese is the following: A stable security situation equals the possibility of a satisfactory or better economic situation.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 24, 2014, on page 7.