Presidential ‘Surprises’

Emile Rahme on Al-Manar's Hezbollah TV

Emile Rahme on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV

The March 8 camp is preparing a series of “surprises” for Wednesday’s parliamentary session to elect a president, reported al-Joumhouria newspaper on Saturday without elaborating.

This does not however include the nomination of Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, said March 8 sources.

They explained that the camp opted against this option because the lawmaker seeks to be a “consensual presidential candidate among all political powers, while keeping in mind that the March 14 alliance will not vote for him.” [...]

The March 8 camp has therefore chosen the possible nomination of MP Emile Rahme instead of Aoun, reported the daily An Nahar Saturday.

(Link)

Surprise.

According to reports all over the internet, the March 8 alliance is thinking of nominating Emile Rahme as their presidential candidate instead of Aoun.

Emile Rahme’s Position

For M14, Emile Rahme is probably the most hated Christian MP. In a way, he’s like Future Movement’s Mohammad Raad, Walid Jumblatt’s Aoun/Geagea, or Hezbollah’s Ashraf Rifi. Emile Rahme is also one of the few MPs that are part of the FPM’s change and reform bloc without being a member of the FPM. Of the 27 men loyal to Aoun in the parliament, he’s one of two or three whose election depends entirely on Hezbollah’s votes. The vast majority of the change and reform bloc MPs (4 for Baabda, 7 for the Metn, 5 for Keserwan, 3 for Jbeil and 3 for Jezzine, a total of 22/27) represent North Mount-Lebanon and Jezzine, where the Christian electorate is at least more than the half in each constituency. 3 extra Marada MPs represent  Zgharta, which is also overwhelmingly Christian (even if the MPs aren’t directly loyal to Aoun but to Frangieh).

The last two MPs are a Druze loyal to Arslan representing Hasbaya, and Emile Rahme. The district Rahme represents is Baalbak-Hermel, Lebanon’s biggest Shia constituency, and happens also to be Hezbollah’s main electoral stronghold (the south is is considered to be more pro-Amal than pro-Hezbollah).

Let’s review Emile Rahme’s pros for a last time. He is Hezbollah’s strongest man in the change of reform bloc and one of the most vocal Christian anti-M14 lawmakers – in the middle between Aoun and Hezbollah – making him a prefect candidate in case M8 wants a rather politically violent candidate in face of Geagea. He’s even from a village that is next to Bcharri, Geagea’s hometown.

But Emile Rahme has an extra feature: He is the only Christian in the change and reform bloc that wasn’t elected by determining Christian votes (Baalbak-Hermel is 65% Shia). In other words, he’s considered to be relatively weak among the Christian electorate. As bad as that might sound, it’s actually something good because this quality is most likely to give him Jumblattist support. Michel Aoun would gain a president from his bloc, Hezbollah would gain a president from a district he electorally controls, Amal would gain a president that used to represent a Shia constituency, and Jumblatt would gain a president that has no popular Christian support. Both centrists and M8 win if Emile Rahme becomes Lebanon’s next president.

The Maneuver

Emile Rahme in Baabda is similar to a declaration of war for M14. Since Jumblatt is going to decide his candidate at the last minute, M14 can’t risk the election of Rahme. The only way to counter this move is by agreeing with M8 on a more moderate candidate. That candidate is no other than Michel Aoun, who didn’t yet officially announce his candidacy and said he won’t do it unless there’s a consensus on him. Emile Rahme’s candidacy (or rumors/reports of his nomination) to the presidency is a message to Future Movement from M8: Strike a consensual deal with Michel Aoun – the lesser of two evils for M14 – or risk the election of Emile Rahme.

Walid Jumblatt Is Still The Kingmaker

If M8 simply wanted to bring a ‘violent’ president from their ranks, they could have opted for Sleiman Frangieh. But the fact that Frangieh is considered to be rather strong especially within the northern Christian electorate wouldn’t make him too popular with Jumblatt. The key for winning here is to make Jumblat side by you in the elections. While M8 were proposing the name of Emile Rahme (Jumblatt might still reject him), M14 sources were speaking of two particular Maronites: Fouad Al-Saad and Henri Helou. These two MPs defected from the Jumblat’s bloc in 2011 when he decided to support Mikati in the parliamentary consultations, putting them at an equal distance between M14 and Walid Jumblatt. The leader of the PSP however ruled out this possibility, and is unlikely to support either of them for the elections – They did leave his bloc after all. The last remaining Maronite from his bloc, Elie Aoun, probably has higher chances than them.

Parliament convenes to elect the president on the 23rd of April.

35 days till the 25th of May.

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