Six Months Of Vacuum

A Lebanese Staghound securing the presidential palace in Kantari, Beirut (1958)

A Lebanese Staghound securing the presidential palace in Kantari, Beirut (1958)

It’s already been six months since Michel Sleiman left office. And this month has been the most active one so far: The parliament approved its 2 years and seven months extension, the Future Movement hinted at the possibility of a presidential breakthrough, Aoun responded with an innovative counter-attack, and most importantly, there are renewed talks about the electoral law.

How the FM tried to break the vicious circle

Two weeks ago, one of the most shocking and unexpected maneuvers of the year broke the five months status-quo we had since Michel Sleiman left office: The Future Movement – via an interview with a Beirut MP – hinted that Sleiman Frangieh could be an accepted presidential candidate. The maneuver was surprising, yet brilliant:

If the FM – according to MP Shab’s hints – are seriously considering Frangieh’s candidacy, it would make Hezbollah look like a hypocrite in case they insist on Aoun or a consensual candidate, and it would create problems between the Marada and the FPM and between M8′s Christians and M8′s Muslims. A Frangieh presidency might seem like a March 8 victory, but on the long run, it will probably lead to the downfall of that alliance.

Such a maneuver from M14 would kill two candidacies with one stone: Aoun’s candidacy and Kahwaji’s candidacy. And in the process, it would kill the M8 alliance.

How Frangieh responded

So to sum things up here , Frangieh in his interview ended the Future Movement’s maneuver while it was still in its early stage and proved that he wouldn’t go behind his allies’ back in order to secure the presidency for himself. But he also indirectly gave the names of M8’s three presidential favorites: Aoun, Obeid (rumored to be Berri’s favori), and Kahwaji (rumored to be Hezbollah’s favori) while at the same time blacklisting two other possible consensual names: Georges Khoury (Who used to be the head of Lebanon’s intelligence service), and the governor of the central bank (Riad Salameh).

How Aoun responded

Aoun however was more subtle in his counter-attack. While he didn’t directly comment on M14’s maneuver, he said (in an interview with MTV) that he was ready to face off with Samir Geagea in parliament provided that there was no other candidate running in the presidential elections. The maneuver here is pretty much obvious: As demonstrated by the first round of the presidential elections, Samir Geagea could never get more than 50% of the votes needed to be elected. Walid Jumblatt, among other non-affiliated M8 politicians would never elect him as president. While Michel Aoun would also never get more than 50% of the votes (since the Jumblatt and Mikati blocs are hardly going to prefer him over Geagea), Michel Aoun – via his face off proposal – would have made sure that other presidential candidates would be surely gone from the race: Two names quickly come to mind here: Sleiman Frangieh and Henri Helou.

By making sure that it would be either Geagea or himself in Baabda, Aoun would have achieved a big win here and would have stopped two major M14 maneuvers from happening: The first one – electing Frangieh – was a long shot and its main goal was shattering the M8 alliance rather than securing the election of Frangieh – and it didn’t work anyway. The second maneuver is M8’s biggest fear: Should there be quorum, if M14 decides to support Jumblatt’s candidate – Henri Helou –  then he would become Lebanon’s next president since M14’s votes alongside Jumblatt’s ones are more than 65.
Aoun – and by getting everyone else to agree to his face off deal – Would have ruled out the possibility of M14 showing up to vote for Geagea but instead voting for Helou and electing him as president.

The FPM was trying to hit two birds with one stone: Keeping Frangieh outside the presidential race – independently of what Frangieh has to say- and at the same time preventing M14 from voting for Helou and electing him as president. This is why M8 won’t let the parliament meet to elect the president: It’s not because they fear that Geagea would be elected (Which is surreal). It’s because they fear that M14 would change their mind at the last minute and elect Helou after a deal with Walid Jumblatt. What confirms this theory is Jumblatt’s rejection of Aoun’s proposal (He called it undemocratic):

How the Lebanese Forces responded

The Lebanese Forces had two interesting reactions on the maneuvers of this month: The first one was their sudden interest in the electoral law and their reinvigorated support to a law they had previously agreed to (in May 2013) with the PSP and the FM. This is probably a reminder to the PSP and the FM that they are still an integral part of M14 and that they can give them concessions other parties would never give (Like on the electoral law). The second one was their approval of Aoun’s face-to-face competition with Geagea. After all, how can it harm the Lebanese Forces if Frangieh and Helou are out from the presidential race?

How vacancy in the presidency is in favor of M8

Now that the stances of every party is becoming clearer by the day, it would be interesting to see the bigger picture here, that is a lot similar to 2007 and 2008: March 8 is blocking the presidential elections because it gives them a tactical advantage: If they let it happen, there’s a possibility that M14 could eventually rally around Helou and elect him as president. Once Helou is elected president, M14 could – with the help of Jumblatt – form a government that is purely M14 and pass an electoral law that has the consent M14 (and M14 only). And the very fact that such a draft law already exists (It’s the one the LF mentioned) scares M8 even more. While M8 are more or less sure by now that Aoun’s chances are next to nil, Hezbollah’s ultimate goal of electing a consensual candidate that isn’t hostile towards its politics is becoming more likely. The delay in the presidential elections also gives M8 another advantage: By blocking the election of any president whatsoever, M8 could extort M14 into agreeing to their own terms: Just like 2008, the war for the presidential elections is the minor one. The main issue here is the deal that would include the name of the Lebanese president, and not the Lebanese president himself. There has been a lot of talk lately about a possible dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement: While the dialogue in itself is likely to be useless, what is really important here is the FM’s precondition that the dialogue should start by solving the presidential deadlock before anything else: M14 wants to prevent M8 – via the preconditions of the dialogue – from asking for a deal (including the name of the president among other things). On the other hand, M8 needs guarantees that it wouldn’t be ousted from the next Lebanese government, and that an electoral law wouldn’t be voted without its consent. Deep down, the Aoun candidacy isn’t the will. It’s the way. After all, the only power M8 has (politically) is their “presidential blocking third”. So if they want to survive till the next parliamentary elections and if they want to make sure that their blocking third in the government is still there, now would be the smart time to take advantage of their number in parliament.

185 since the 25th of May. 21 days since the 5th of November. One million years till the next parliamentary elections.

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