Two weeks ago, Lebanon’s new cabinet was securing the vote of confidence in the parliament. Except for a small number of maneuvers (see here, here, here, here), there was no major breakthrough during the 11 months deadlock regarding the presidential elections. These days are over: The Lebanese political scene is currently inundated with events related – directly or indirectly- to the election of the new Lebanese president.
“We want a strong president”
Read that sentence, and remember it well. Four men keep saying it, all the time, everywhere, to whoever they meet, whatever the circumstances are.
Question: Should the parliament vote an electoral law? Answer: We want a strong president.
Q: Should the cabinet approve a certain decree? A: We want a strong president.
Q: Are you in love? A: We want a strong president.
*has nightmares of weak presidents becoming zombies*
Q: Do you like pizza? A: We want a strong president.
For those of you who are wondering what that sentence means, be surprised, for those five words are full with implications.
1) We: Since the sentence is usually repeated by Samir Geagea, the Kataeb, Sleiman Frangieh, and Michel Aoun, The “We” refers primarily to the leading Four Maronite leaders. If anyone else is saying it, it’s probably an echo.
2) Want: Usually, you want what you can’t have. In the case of the Maronite Four (MF), they are all aspiring to relocate to the Baabda palace for the next 6 years. But they all know that the chances of another neutral candidate are much higher.
3) A Strong President: This is the best part. According to Sleiman Frangieh’s universal definition of strong president – a definition apparently recognized by his other 3 Maronite colleagues, check the interview with Marcel Ghanem – a strong president is a person that meets only one of the following criteria:
- His name is Michel Aoun
- His name is Sleiman Frangieh
- His name is Samir Geagea
- His name is Amine Gemayel
This is the part where I stop the sarcasm :D . The Maronite Four (MF), along with everyone else, have managed to pull out a breathtaking political maneuver lately. The idea of a strong president, embraced by the Maronite patriarch, and hundreds of other politicians from all sides is not just a simple sentence that everyone repeats on biased TV stations. The idea of seeking a strong president – from a closed group of 4 members – is equivalent to the idea of eliminating all the other choices. This systematic sentimental brainwashing that the Maronite Four have been doing for the past two to three months, by convincing the Lebanese public – via an uninterrupted collective propaganda campaign – that Lebanon needs a strong president has one huge aim: Excluding any other popular Maronite – not belonging to the MF – from the race. The first names coming to mind are former minister Ziyad Baroud, the commander of the army Jean Kahwagi, and the governor of the central bank Riad Salame.
Samir Geagea/Amine Gemayel’s biggest fear isn’t Michel Aoun or Sleiman Frangieh becoming presidents. And the same goes for Aoun/Frangieh: Their biggest fear isn’t Geagea or Gemayel in office. Their biggest fear is that a neutral figure takes power. Each and every one of them would have to deal with a newcomer to internal Christian politics that is likely to reduce their power – both on an electoral level and on an administrative level. For example, instead of having 3 ministers with the LF, 3 with the FPM, and 3 with the president, The FPM/LF will get to split the president’s share if he’s Aoun or Geagea, hence maximizing their influence in any future cabinet.
There’s also another synonym of “strong president” : It’s not Michel Sleiman. So when the MF tell you they want a strong president, you should always understand it as an opposition to extending president Sleiman’s term.
The MF: An Unusual Gathering
Probably for the first time in the history of the blog, I am starting a post with no direct mention to the March 14 or March 8 alliances. And that’s not a coincidence. Michel Aoun’s allies have failed him in May 2013, when they extended the terms of the parliament – against his will. Also in May 2013, Future Movement failed the Kataeb when they refused to support the Orthodox Gathering Law in parliament. 10 Months later, the FM – without the consent of the Lebanese Forces - would enter a cabinet with Hezbollah, throwing the LF by themselves in the opposition to an all-embracing cabinet. The Maronite Four have learned their lesson: They cannot rely on their Muslim allies, and they are the weaker parties of the M14 and M8 alliances due to their small parliamentary blocs (except for Aoun). After 10 years of counting on their Muslim allies, the Christians parties apparently realized that unless they preemptively unanimously agree on certain matters (Like electing a strong president), their allies were going to compromise and agree on another consensual candidate without consulting them.
In 24 hours, the army dismantled an explosive-rigged vehicle on the outskirts of Arsal, finalized preparations for a Cabinet-sanctioned security plan for Tripoli, confiscated ammunition coming from Syria, raided a refugee camp, while at the same time the military prosecutor – in an unprecedented move – issued warrants against 200 suspects involved in the Tripoli clashes (See here for more details).
In case you’re confused, that’s the commander of the army presenting his candidacy to the presidential elections.
Another interesting observation is Geagea being officially nominated as presidential candidate by the Lebanese Forces. While this seems perfectly normal, it actually isn’t. Geagea is officially running to the presidential elections without previously getting the green light from the other M14 parties, particularly Al-Mustaqbal. So basically, this is what Geagea is trying to do: preemptively proposing his candidature in order to force and put pressure on the Future Movement to endorse him. This political maneuver aims at setting him as the de-facto candidate of the FM, and hence destroying the chances of electing Michel Aoun as president in a future FM-FPM deal. Exactly 1 month ago, the primary candidate from M14 was Gemayel. Due to his preemptive move, Geagea made it harder for Gemayel to run for office, while successfully (?) sabotaging any compromise between M8 and M14 similar to the cabinet one where he was excluded.
Use Your Calculator
You need 65 MPs to win the elections, and a quorum of 86 MPs to make it happen. Since M14 and M8 both don’t have the absolute majority, expect millions of rounds. Each one will end with approximately 60 votes for each candidate (probably Aoun/Geagea), since Jumblatt will not vote for anyone of them. The press is even circulating information that he said he would start a civil war if one of them gets elected.
So to sum things up, the Maronite Four want one of them as president even though none of the Maronite Four is ready to elect the other (except for Frangieh). Everyone in the parliament either wants Geagea or Aoun, except for Jumblatt. The altenative would be electing someone neutral, from outside the Maronite Four traditional candidates. But hey, there’s the Veto coming from the Maronite Four.
But one should look on the bright side, there are other candidates: A pious (that’s sarcasm) person (please check the video. please.) named Rachid-Louis Labaki, and an actor, Adel Karam, also officially presented their candidacy.
Just kidding. There is no bright side.
50 days till the 25th of May.