Walid Jumblatt’s Democratic Gathering is reassembled, the March 14 coalition stands together as one unified alliance, and the March 8 coalition isn’t sparing a single effort to stop M14 from winning. Welcome back to 2009.
The Lebanese parties’ different stances are full of meanings. But first, let’s take a look at the results.
Results of the first parliamentary session to elect the Lebanese president:
- White Ballots: 52 Votes
- Samir Geagea: 48 Votes
- Henri Helou: 16 Votes
- Amine Gemayel: 1 Vote
- Canceled: 7 Votes (For Tarek and Dany Chamoun, Rachid Karami, Elias Zayek, Jihane Frangieh)
4 MPs did not attend (Saad Hariri, Khaled Daher, Elie Aoun, Okab Sakr)
March 14’s Moves
In an alliance known for its diversity of Christian parties and representatives, the choice of Samir Geagea isn’t a smart one for the coalition to win. But strategically speaking, it’s the most brilliant move any of the M14 parties – except the Lebanese Forces – are capable of. Samir Geagea leads M14’s biggest Christian party. Going against him in the presidential elections seems unwise. Future Movement would have lost its biggest Christian ally while the Kataeb – although benefiting from the absence of its main rival on the short-term – would eventually suffer heavy popular losses on the long-term (Similar to what the M14 had to go through after isolating Aoun in 2005). The Kataeb is a relatively small Christian party and any loss in popularity is fatal to it. Future Movement can’t afford to lose such a heavy Christian ally in such times. It would give the impression that Lebanon’s Sunnis are abandoning the Christians, ironically further isolating the Future Movement and giving M8 the upper hand in Lebanese politics.
One doesn’t have to be a mathematician to see that Geagea’s hopes of becoming president are null. You need 65 votes to become president, and Geagea – in the best scenario possible – can gather a maximum of 60. So why go against him when he can’t win?
By supporting Geagea, the Kataeb and the FM are paving the way for their next moves. They threw all their weight behind the leader of the Lebanese Forces – preemptively knowing that he has no chance in winning. The Kataeb successfully eliminated the candidacy of their biggest rival in the coalition for the next rounds: If Geagea can’t gather enough votes to win, perhaps it’s time for another candidate to try his luck. And now that the Future Movement did what was expected from it, and supported the Christian ally, it’s ethically more Ok for Hariri to strike a deal with Aoun or agree with Jumblatt on a candidate, since Geagea can’t make it. In case the Kataeb want to officially propose Gemayel’s name, the right thing to do from the LF would be endorsing him, since the Kataeb endorsed Geagea when he needed them. ‘Terbi7 Jmile’ would be the proper Lebanese comment to say here. The proof? Even before the first session had happened, the Kataeb were already nominating Gemayel for the next electoral session.
March 8’s Move
The March 8 coalition voted white in the elections. There were reports that M8 might vote for Emile Rahme in the elections, in order to give the impression that Aoun – who refused to run against Geagea – is a moderate while on the other hand making sure that Geagea couldn’t be one. He would have been facing the pro-Syrian Emile Rahme after all.
M14’s endorsement of Geagea was in fact a double political maneuver:
- Sending a message to M8 that M14 is unified no matter how controversial the candidate is.
- Persuading M8 to nominate Aoun as their candidate in face of Geagea, so that both candidates get cleared out and a compromise in which a candidate that’s more centrist than both might get better chances. The Kataeb particularly wanted a Aoun-Geagea confrontation so that Gemayel would look like a consensual candidate. After all, consensual candidates have the best chance of winning in presidential elections.
M8’s response was remarkably brilliant. Instead of proposing Emile Rahme in face of Geagea, they decided to be more original and vote white. Frankly, I don’t know what’s more humiliating: To lose the elections, or to lose the elections to no one.
A Quick Look At The Lebanese Centre
While M8 and M14 are busy ‘plotting’ against one another, The centrists are reorganizing themselves. Walid Jumblatt has profited from the new M8-M14 standoffs on the new president and has reunified his bloc (The Democratic Gathering). Although some reports had confirmed that he didn’t want Henri Helou – who defected from his bloc in 2011 – as president, Jumblatt finally ended up endorsing him for several reasons.
By choosing someone that sided – unlike him – with M14 in 2011 (when Mikati was named PM), Jumblatt is playing it smart. True, he is currently closer to M8 since 2011, but he just chose the closest M14 personality to him for the presidency. Henri Helou, after siding with M14 in 2011, and after being nominated by Jumblatt – separately from M14/M8 – suddenly became a consensual candidate representing Lebanon’s centrists. Jumblat could have chosen someone from the National Struggle Front (The MPs who stayed by his side in 2011), but he did choose one of the two Maronites who didn’t: He wants to make sure that M14 has even less votes in the parliament in case it wants to try to elect a president of its own and that he’ll have the biggest bloc possible in the parliament.
Najib Mikati, who was replaced by Tammam Salam with M8’s consent, is siding with Helou for obvious reasons. As a former “centrist PM” it is wiser for him to support Jumblatt’s candidate in the presidential elections. After all, Helou is the most consensual candidate currently on the table, and hence he has one of the best chances to become president after the maneuvers stop (If there’s a veto on the commander of the army and the BDL Governor). Who’s better to serve as his PM than Mikati?
Parliament convenes again next Wednesday.
32 days till the 25th of May.
Another version of this post was published at Executive Magazine.