Sleiman Frangieh

Is the Frangieh Scenario Possible?

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (R) chats with Lebanese Christian politician and leader of the Marada movement Suleiman Franjieh (L) as Head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc Mohamed Raad (2nd L), MP Assaad Hardan (C) and Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri listen to them during a new session of the national dialogue between political leaders at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, near Beirut April 15, 2010. (Photo: REUTERS/Dalati Nohra)

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (R) chats with Lebanese Christian politician and leader of the Marada movement Suleiman Franjieh (L) as Head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc Mohamed Raad (2nd L), MP Assaad Hardan (C) and Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri listen to them during a new session of the national dialogue between political leaders at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, near Beirut April 15, 2010. (Photo: REUTERS/Dalati Nohra)

This is the 15th post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the month of November 2015.

Accordingly, [Future MP] Shab foresees serious negotiations taking place within “weeks, not months” to agree on a candidate “who can navigate a Sunni-Shiite conflict and who has the confidence of both parties […] someone with a certain degree of legitimate representation, but who is also agreeable to both sides.”

Asked by NOW who might fit that profile, Shab cited the leader of the 8 March-aligned Marada Movement, MP Sleiman Frangieh. When NOW queried how Frangieh, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, could be acceptable to 14 March, Shab hinted at a hypothetical agreement by which Frangieh’s presidency would be paired with Future leader MP Saad Hariri as prime minister.

(2014)

Around the months of October and November of every year (since the presidential debate started in 2013) , Lebanon gets the impression that Sleiman Frangieh might be elected president. This year is no exception: On Wednesday, Frangieh said that “Change and Reform bloc MP Michel Aoun is the March 8 camp’s presidential candidate, but if the March 14 camp makes a proposal, then we are willing to consider it.”

In what might be the most exciting political event this year since Aoun was isolated in government and Roukoz was thrown outside the army, several events (since the twin suicide bombings happened) hinted at the possibility of Sleiman Frangieh being elected president:

(1) Hezbollah Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, addressed local political forces “to search for a true political settlement” (Link)

(2) The Future parliamentary bloc Tuesday welcomed Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s call for a political settlement in Lebanon, urging a concrete plan to be put into action (Link)

(3) According to information also obtained by LBCI, a meeting over the issue of the presidential vote was held Saturday in Riyadh between Hariri, Mustaqbal bloc chief ex-PM Fouad Saniora, Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, and Hariri’s advisers Nader Hariri, Ghattas Khoury and Hani Hammoud.

Hariri had on Saturday described the vacuum at the presidential post as “the biggest insult to the Lebanese people on their national day of independence.”

According to media reports, the ex-PM held talks last week with Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh, who belongs to the rival March 8 camp. (Link)

(4) Raad: Let’s debate and reach some understanding. (Link)

(5) Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi Monday criticized the idea of electing a candidate with links to Syrian President Bashar Assad as Lebanon’s next head of state. (Link)

(6) Change and Reform Parliamentary Bloc Member, Deputy Nabil Ncoula, stated Monday that “a full package does not imply the elimination of General Michel Aoun, but actually highlights the need for a genuine partnership based on respecting true representation.” (Link)

(7) Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh stressed Monday that the country’s new president must “reassure” all of the Lebanese political and social components (Link)

(8) Head of the Change and Reform bloc MP Michel Aoun noted that Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh has the needed characteristics to become president, adding that he is willing to back his bid for the presidency, reported As Safir newspaper on Tuesday.

His visitors told the daily that the lawmaker is “willing to give his blessing to Franjieh’s candidacy if he garners the necessary votes at parliament.”  (Link)

(9) Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his March 14 ally Kataeb leader Sami Gemayel have agreed that all efforts must be put toward electing a president, a statement released by Hariri’s media office said Tuesday (Link)

(10) The Future Parliamentary bloc on Tuesday held its weekly meeting chaired by its leader, Fouad Siniora, and called for doubled efforts that would lead to a comprehensive national compromise which could preserve the national pact, devotes the Taif as a reference and finally solves the crisis of the presidency. (Link)

The speculations started as soon as the Frangieh-Hariri meeting happened and the positive statements by Lebanon’s rival politicians made the possibility of the deal more likely. Both Hezbollah and the FM seem to be willing to settle the issue for good, and for the first time in three years, we could say that the presidential negotiations are finally – in a way or another – underway. Frangieh might seem as an odd choice to fill a consensual position, but then again he might be the best solution available for M8 and M14 as part of a bigger deal tackling the name of the next prime minister, the composition of the cabinet, and the electoral law.

 The Christian exception of Sleiman Frangieh

There are three types of Christian leaders in Beirut. There’s the Samy Gemayel type, willing to defy the greater (Muslim) ally in case the decisions aren’t in his party’s interests. Then there’s the Geagea/Aoun type, who usually stalls and negotiates, before (almost always) agreeing to a compromise with the greater ally. Finally, there’s the Frangieh type, who always – always – stands with the Muslim ally when things get messy. The last two years have been a perfect example: When the parliament’s term was extended in 2014, Frangieh was the only Christian leader -alongside Geagea – to approve of the extension. When Berri wanted to call for a legislative session last week, the only Christian leader who was willing to participate from the start was Frangieh. True, the FPM and the LF eventually participated in the legislation, but they were challenging to deal with. Frangieh also stood against Aoun several  times (although he was still supporting Aoun’s candidacy all the time): Note Frangieh’s criticism of (1) the Aounist 2015 demonstrations and (2) the latest legislative session which was the fruit of the FPM-LF cooperation.

In other words, and for Lebanon’s Muslim parties, Frangieh represents a rare type of politicians in Lebanon: Not only is he predictable, he’s also the better type of predictable: The one who will stand with you, not against you when things will matter. March 8’s problem with a consensual candidate coming from outside its ranks can be summed up by the example of Michel Sleiman, who stood with M14 in the second half of his term. True, the commander of the army might be the strongest consensual candidate right now, but Hezbollah and Amal need a politician they can trust, and Frangieh fits in that role perfectly. On the other hand, Frangieh is by far the most pro-Syrian Christian leader, which raises the ultimate question on how M14 might bring him into the presidential palace. Scroll up, and read quote number (6). That’s the FM’s way of saying that they might accept him as a candidate in exchange of a compromise: A staunchly M8 president means that the prime minister must be staunchly M14, which puts Hariri, the leader of M14, as the only candidate for the premiership. A staunchly M8 president also means that there would be a slight M14 counterbalance force in the government, hence guaranteeing M14 a majority (or at least the half – like in 2009) of the seats in the executive power. The only piece of the puzzle that remains is the electoral law, and it could be solved soon: There’s a committee in parliament that has been recently tasked with drafting it – the irony is that Geagea and Aoun were the ones that asked for it in exchange of their participation in this month’s legislative session, not realizing that they were unknowingly boosting Frangieh’s chances in the presidential war.

The Frangieh-Aoun conundrum

In 2013, Frangieh warned of a presidential vacuum as the conflict over Syria continues and suggested that Lebanon adopts the 50 percent plus one vote formula to secure the office. That (very dangerous political statement) meant that Frangieh was not only a natural presidential candidate (by being one of the Maronite Four), but that he was also somehow able to secure more that half of the parliament’s votes. Lebanon did not overthink that sentence back then, but since March 8 have less than the half of the seats, that was a clear sign that Frangieh had the support of the centrists (but probably under their terms – there was a different context back then, Sleiman was still in Baabda, there was a governmental vacancy and there were high tensions between M14 and M8).

Although Frangieh’s name was always on the table, he kept on denying that he was March 8’s first candidate for the elections. Aoun had the seniority, the bigger party in the coalition, and the official support of his allies. Every time he was approached on the subject, Frangieh insisted that he would run as M8’s candidate only if Aoun withdrew. Aoun’s candidacy was most likely doomed to fail, and Frangieh knew that standing against the candidacy of the president of his bloc and the leader of the biggest Christian party early on would turn M8 against him, perturb his alliance with the FPM, and discredit him within M14. His biggest ally was and still is time: The more the vacancy persists, the more his M8 allies would start looking – under pressure from M14 – for a candidate other than Aoun that might be accepted by M14. That moment seems to have arrived this week (But then again, we also thought that it had arrived in 2014 😛 ). The more Frangieh says he’s with Aoun, the more Aoun would be eventually forced to endorse him as his alternative/protégé, which explains why – even as the whole country speculates that Sleiman Frangieh has become the prime presidential candidate – Frangieh’s man in the cabinet (culture minister Rony Araiji)  still confirms that Aoun is still M8’s candidate.

The golden question: Why Frangieh is so important to M14

I explained it last year (when we had the rumors that M14 was about to endorse Frangieh), and I’ll explain it again: If March 14 endorses Frangieh, it would be highly tempting for Hezbollah and Frangieh to abandon the Aoun campaign. For Hezbollah, Aoun is silver but Frangieh is gold. Frangieh – unlike Aoun who has 18 MPs representing solely the FPM – doesn’t have a big bloc (4 MPs, including himself and Emile Rahme who is much more pro-Hezbollah than he is pro-Frangieh). Frangieh also has a limited electorate that he can rely on. And by limited, I mean it in a geographical, demographic, and sectarian way. Most (If not all) of Frangieh’s popular base is Christian, mostly Maronite, from the Zgharta Caza (Which is one of the smallest in terms of parliamentary representation with 3 MPs) and some of the surrounding villages in Koura. Frangieh doesn’t have foothold outside the North, belongs to a feudal family – and most importantly – faces continuous competition from other renowned political families established in Zgharta (Such as the Mouawads). In other words, Frangieh is too weak and can be manipulated by Hezbollah / Future Movement while Aoun (as a comparison) is much, much harder to keep under control. If Aoun switches sides, his ~ 22/23 MPs would be enough to change the status quo and throw a party outside the cabinet – be it Hezbollah, or even the FM. Frangieh can’t do anything with his 3 MPs (Yes, 3, because once he’s elected he loses his seat 😛 – And it’s actually 2 since you can’t really count Rahme as a loyalist). Frangieh won’t have his own base in the parliament to rely on, which means that he will fully be dependent on Hezbollah or the FM in everything concerning the legislation. Even if Frangieh wants to call for demonstrations, it wouldn’t have any impact unless Hezbollah joins him. Aoun wouldn’t need Hezbollah at all on the popular level (the 2015 summer demonstrations prove it) –  in fact it would hurt him since the counter-propaganda would make it look as if his supporters aren’t Christian – making him an “illegitimate” Christian president. Frangieh is also a lot more pro-Syrian than Aoun is, and the Frangiehs have historical family ties with the Assad family that are almost 50 years old. Which means that even if every single MP in M14 endorses Frangieh, he would always be a friend of Syria – and thus closer to Hezbollah. Aoun, on the other hand, is a lot more unreliable so he might be a pain in the ass in case he decides to switch sides or go against the Syrian regime.

La morale: If you’re Hezbollah, and have to choose between Frangieh and Aoun, you’ll choose Frangieh every time. Every time.

Le piège (sowing discontent level: Future Movement)

If the FM allows and even supports the election of Frangieh, it would have given Hezbollah its golden candidate. It would have also looked like it would have won the elections, since it was the one who proposed Frangieh’s name first. The only problem here is that for Hezbollah, it would mean abandoning its now declared candidacy of Aoun or at the very least putting M8’s biggest two Christian parties, the FPM and the Marada, in direct confrontation. It would also mean that Nabih Berri’s opinion would be marginalized, and that the FPM would probably exit the March 8 alliance (and perhaps join a common Christian Front with the LF/Kaaeb who should also be in theory pissed because of the Frangieh election). In other words, Hezbollah would have won the presidency, but would’ve lost the integrity of the March 8 coalition. What’s the point of having a 100% loyal president if you can’t even influence 15% of the MPs when you want to form the government or vote for laws?

Hezbollah had a plan: Support Aoun till the end, and eventually settle – with Aoun’s blessing – on a non “Maronite Four” consensual candidate that has a friendly attitude towards Hezbollah, such as LAF commander Jean Kahwaji. Kahwaji’s election would have also been part of a bigger deal that should have been even more rewarding to the M8 alliance.

The only way for Hezbollah to keep the M8 coalition alive and make way for Frangieh would be if Aoun endorses him at the same time as M14 gives its green light. And that was what Frangieh – by his relentless support to the Aoun candidacy – has been doing for the past 2 years. Aoun had said many times that he would support Frangieh, but now things are starting to get serious, and an official stance from the FPM is still required to go forward with such a settlement.

As one of the blog’s readers suggested on twitter, the Frangieh scenario might in fact be back in play. We’ll have to wait and see…

550 days since the 25th of May. 386 days since the 5th of November.

Endorsing Frangieh: March 14’s New Maneuver?

Sleiman Frangieh Timbre

Accordingly, [Future MP] Shab foresees serious negotiations taking place within “weeks, not months” to agree on a candidate “who can navigate a Sunni-Shiite conflict and who has the confidence of both parties […] someone with a certain degree of legitimate representation, but who is also agreeable to both sides.”

Asked by NOW who might fit that profile, Shab cited the leader of the 8 March-aligned Marada Movement, MP Sleiman Frangieh. When NOW queried how Frangieh, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, could be acceptable to 14 March, Shab hinted at a hypothetical agreement by which Frangieh’s presidency would be paired with Future leader MP Saad Hariri as prime minister.

(Source)

This is the beauty of Lebanese politics: Just when you thought that there would be no political maneuvers after the parliamentary extension and that we would enjoy at least three or four months of political silence, the Future Movement decides to throw this time bomb. The leading party of the March 14 alliance is apparently ready to strike a deal that involves the election of Syria’s man in Lebanon, Sleiman Frangieh, as president. True, Shab’s remarks don’t necessarily mean that there’s a consensus on the election of Frangieh among all the members of M14 (or even the FM), but even the idea of the Future Movement electing Frangieh is extremely shocking. So shocking that it might ironically be their best move since this presidential thing started.

A Thank You Note To Hezbollah?

Endorsing Frangieh might be a thank you note to Hezbollah. The party gave three gifts to the FM in the past three weeks: The first one was the official endorsement of Aoun that ended the FPM’s “Aoun is a consensual candidate” campaign. The second one was Hezbollah’s early decision to extend the parliament’s term although his main Christian ally opposed it and although it might have probably led to a decisive M8 victory – Due to the ISIS propaganda and the Christian fears. And the third one was Nasrallah’s friendly remarks about the Future Movement in his speech two weeks ago. These three stances indicated that there might be a rapprochement between the two parties (Similar to the one the FPM and the FM had in the autumn of 2013). Hezbollah had let down its main Christian ally three times in less than 3 weeks (And it’s in a context of presidential elections, making it worse for Aoun and even better for the FM). Perhaps accepting a Frangieh presidency might be a way of saying thank you to Hezbollah for postponing the elections, destroying Aoun’s last presidential hope, and not making a big deal out of the extension. And the very fact that Frangieh’s men were the only MPs from the change and reform bloc (27 MPs) that voted for the extension means that Frangieh is (1) fully independent from Aoun and (2) might as well be the intermediary between Hezbollah and the FM.

Perhaps Not A Thank You Note After All.

But how on earth would the Syrian regime’s oldest and closest ally, and Hezbollah’s primary ally in the North become an accepted consensual candidate? No matter how much you think about it, it’s surreal. Here’s something I wrote about the Frangieh presidency in October 2013 (Link for the full post):

Apparently on Thursday, Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh warned of a presidential vacuum as the conflict over Syria continues and suggested that Lebanon adopts the 50 percent plus one vote formula to secure the office.

[…]

Let alone the fact that Frangieh’s allies took advantage of that particular constitutional clause (Of having the two thirds quorum in the Presidential elections) in order to block the election of an M14 candidate in 2008, the very fact that Frangieh is asking for a modification of that electoral process is very weird. Why? Let’s see why. Because Frangieh belongs to a coalition in the parliament that holds between the third and half of the seats in the parliament. That means that under the current constitutional rules, Frangieh – Let’s suppose for a while that he will be M8’s candidate – can block the electoral process by instructing his allies to boycott the session. Just to make it clear – and more complicated for you –  Frangieh said that a 50% plus one vote should be adopted. Thus theoretically, Frangieh spoke nothing about the quorum.  He only mentioned what the number of votes for the winner should be once there is quorum. So if Frangieh doesn’t want to change the quorum rule in the constitution but only the voting rule, nothing makes sense. Is Frangieh suggesting that we change the quorum or the winning vote number? Let’s see.

M8 has 40% of the votes, M14 45%, and the others (Mikati, Jumblatt …)15%  (The numbers aren’t exact, but you get the point)

Cas 1: Our lovely non functioning system (Quorum 66%, First round 66%, Second round 50%+1). Frangieh wants to run, but M14 and the others won’t vote for him. Frangieh instructs his allies to boycott. 40%>33% which means that there will be no quorum, thus no elections. In case the others will vote for him, that means he will have 55% of the votes. M14 boycotts, 45%>33%, meaning that there will also be no quorum.

Cas 2: Quorum remains untouched with Frangieh’s amendment (Quorum 66%, First round 50%+1). Frangieh wants to run, but M14 and the others won’t vote for him. Frangieh instructs his allies to boycott. 40%>33% which means that there will be no quorum, thus no elections. However, Frangieh is saying that he is making the amendment to make life simpler and easier for the parliament to elect the president. Which means that the amendment doesn’t make any sense (See, I told you!) because the quorum boycott is still here and if he wishes not to boycott and elect the president with 50%+1 he can simply wait for the second round and keep the constitution like it was (see Cas 1)

Cas 3:  Frangieh was actually talking about the quorum!  (Quorum  50%+1%, First round 50%+1).  40%<50% which means that Frangieh can’t freeze the process if he boycotts and has a very high chance of losing because 40%<50%. Unless…

Unless What?

Unless Frangieh is sure he can secure 65 MPs to vote for him. In politics you don’t actually propose something you might lose in, so there’s something fishy about this. If Frangieh meant cas 1 (or cas 2), he was probably just saying things to fill in the blanks of his speech. But if what Frangieh meant was cas 3, then something very dangerous is going on here.

Dangerous How?

If Frangieh can bring 65 votes, but not 86 (the 66% quorum that he wishes to remove in his reform) that can mean only few things. That means he isn’t a consensual candidate because he doesn’t have 66% of the votes (shocking, right?), that he will be running with M14 (See what I mean by dangerous?) against Aoun, or that Jumblatt and Mikati, along with Amal and Hezbollah and someone else will choose him as their sole candidate to the elections and throw Aoun outside which will probably make the latter closer to M14 than M8.

Read the last paragraph from last year’s post (emphasis on the words in green), and read it well. A Frangieh candidacy endorsed by M14 would ironically put Hezbollah in a very though position.

It’s as if a very poor person (Let’s call him Michel) asked for a loaf of bread, and instead, you give his other not-so-needy friend (Let’s call him Sleiman) a Burger that he can’t split – because it’s your only option. There’s nothing wrong about eating the Burger, except that Michel would hate you (and Sleiman) for it and you’ll eventually lose Michel as a friend.

You are Hezbollah, and the burger/loaf is obviously the presidency (I don’t think I need to clarify who Michel and Sleiman are).

Sleiman Frangieh had previously confirmed that he wasn’t anymore a presidential candidate and endorsed Michel Aoun. The problem here is that if March 14 endorses Frangieh, it would be highly tempting for Hezbollah and Frangieh to abandon the Aoun campaign. For Hezbollah, Aoun is silver but Frangieh is gold. Frangieh – unlike Aoun who has 18 MPs representing solely the FPM – doesn’t have a big bloc (4 MPs, including himself and Emile Rahme who is much more pro-Hezbollah than he is pro-Frangieh). Frangieh also has a limited electorate that he can rely on. And by limited, I mean it in a geographical, demographic, and sectarian way. Most (If not all) of Frangieh’s popular base is Christian, mostly Maronite, from the Zgharta Caza (Which is one of the smallest in terms of parliamentary representation with 3 MPs) and some of the surrounding villages in Koura. Frangieh doesn’t have foothold outside the North, belongs to a feudal family – and most importantly – faces continuous competition from other renowned political families established in Zgharta (Such as the Mouawads). In other words, Frangieh is too weak and can be manipulated by Hezbollah / Future Movement while Aoun (as a comparison) is much, much harder to keep under control. If Aoun switches sides, his ~ 22/23 MPs would be enough to change the status quo and throw a party outside the cabinet – be it Hezbollah, or even the FM. Frangieh can’t do anything with his 3 MPs (Yes, 3, because once he’s elected he loses his seat 😛 – And it’s actually 2 since you can’t really count Rahme as a loyalist). Frangieh won’t have his own base in the parliament to rely on, which means that he will fully be dependent on Hezbollah or the FM in everything concerning the legislation. Even if Frangieh wants to call for demonstrations, it wouldn’t have any impact unless Hezbollah joins him. Aoun wouldn’t need Hezbollah at all on the popular level –  in fact it would hurt him since the counter-propaganda would make it look as if his supporters aren’t Christian – making him an “illegitimate” Christian president. Frangieh is also a lot more pro-Syrian than Aoun is, and the Frangiehs have historical family ties with the Assad family that are almost 50 years old. Which means that even if every single MP in M14 endorses Frangieh, he would always be a friend of Syria – and thus closer to Hezbollah. Aoun, on the other hand, is a lot more unreliable so he might be a pain in the ass in case he decides to switch sides or go against the Syrian regime.

La morale: If you’re Hezbollah, and have to choose between Frangieh and Aoun, you’ll choose Frangieh every time. Every time.

Le Piège (Sowing Discontent Level: Future Movement)

If the FM allows and even supports the election of Frangieh, it would have given Hezbollah its golden candidate. It would have also looked like it would have won the elections, since it was the one who proposed Frangieh’s name first. The only problem here is that for Hezbollah, it would mean abandoning its now declared candidacy of Aoun. It would also mean that Nabih Berri’s opinion would be marginalized, and that the FPM would probably exit the March 8 alliance (and perhaps join a common Christian Front with the LF/Kaaeb who should also be in theory pissed because of the Frangieh election). In other words, Hezbollah would have won the presidency, but would’ve lost the integrity of the March 8 coalition. What’s the point of having a 100% loyal president if you can’t even influence 15% of the MPs when you want to form the government or vote for laws?

Hezbollah had a plan: Support Aoun till the end, and eventually settle – with Aoun’s blessing – on a non “Maronite Four” consensual candidate that has a friendly attitude towards Hezbollah, such as LAF commander Jean Kahwaji. Kahwaji’s election would have also been part of a bigger deal that should have been even more rewarding to the M8 alliance.

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.

174 days since the 25th of May. 10 days since the 5th of November.

The Presidential Race Begins

Naharnet Michel Aoun Nominates Geagea For Presidency

In what is probably the most misleading article title since the beginning of time, Naharnet tells us that “Aoun Links Cabinet with Presidential Elections, Says he Nominates Geagea“. In the same context, Berri apparently said that he won’t deal with the matter before March 25, when the 60-day Constitutional deadline for the election of a new president starts. But since every possible politician is talking about the presidential elections, I find it hard how he’ll manage to do that. So what is exactly happening 5 months before the 25th of May? 

Mini-heart attack yet? Don’t panic. Aoun isn’t actually going to nominate Geagea (Naharnet forgot to put the word mockingly before says in the title). However, Aoun said that he wants a strong president and he clearly won’t nominate Geagea  (since he mockingly nominated him). On the opposite side, he is distancing himself from his ally (and apparently presidential rival) Sleiman Frangieh by asking for the election of a president from the first round (requiring the two-thirds of votes) while Frangieh previously said that he had no problem in electing the president with absolute majority (Here’s a nice post from October explaining why). Meaning that Aoun is likely to nominate someone from the FPM (him?).

Khabsa within M8

Frangieh and Aoun are endorsing two different electoral strategies, meaning that they will probably not be endorsing each other. This small competition is only the beginning. There will come a time where other M8 parties will have to choose between Frangieh and the Aounist candidate . So with who will side Hezbollah? The whole confusion emerging from within the March 8 coalition also means that the other centrist parties would have a much more free hand and will be more able to distance themselves from the March 8 camp or put conditions on the shattered M8 alliance. Jumblatt and Mikati in stronger positions also means that the president would be in a better place in case he wishes to extend his mandate. March 14’s silence and Tammam Salam’s passivity show us that the deal – if a consensus is to be reached – won’t strictly be about the government but rather the whole crisis, and its recent newcomer: The presidential elections.

Too Much USJ And No Jumblatt

Did I miss anyone? Correct! Jumblatt’s quiet attitude for the past few weeks – only 3 weeks earlier he was engaged in a violent media war against M14 and M8 – indicates that everyone is considering his options. After all, Jumblatt is still the kingmaker, and his stances will with no doubt influence everything. In fact Jumblatt’s silence is probably behind most of the parties’ cautiousness. No one wants to rush to the losing side. And the identity of that side will be clearer once Jumblatt takes a decision. 

If you’ve been following the news this week you’d be aware of the student elections in USJ and their violent aftermath (see here, here, here). One must keep in mind that USJ is one of the biggest and most prestigious universities in Lebanon, and its political relevance comes from the fact that it is a Christian University mostly attended by Christian students. Other than the demographic cause, the campus where most of the trouble happened is in the heart of Ashrafieh, while the University itself is the Alma mater of roughly half of the Lebanese presidents. That’s why the university elections at USJ matter more – strategically speaking – to the Christian leaders than the elections at the Lebanese University, AUB, LAU or any other university. Although the tensions are more of a yearly tradition now, this year I can’t but relate the unusually high tensions (Classes were suspended for two days in Huvelin campus)  to the near presidential elections. For the reasons stated above, whoever the winner is at USJ , it’s a huge boost for him ahead of the presidential elections. Probably explains why Aoun lashed out at Geagea and why Samy Gemayel entered in a media / propaganda war against Michel Aoun and M8 following the elections.

Reminder: We still don’t have a government.

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Frangieh’s Presidential Election Reform And What It Means

Deputy Speaker Michel Sassin declaring Suleiman Frangieh (The Grandfather) President in 1970

Deputy Speaker Michel Sassine declaring Suleiman Frangieh (The Grandfather) President in 1970

With Tammam Salam’s inability to form a government, the parliament’s failures to convene – which is unconstitutional anyway – and the electoral law impasse forgotten, I find myself obliged to talk about something new to Lebanese politics this month: The presidential elections.

Apparently on Thursday, Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh warned of a presidential vacuum as the conflict over Syria continues and suggested that Lebanon adopts the 50 percent plus one vote formula to secure the office.

Wait What

Let alone the fact that Frangieh’s allies took advantage of that particular constitutional clause (Of having the two thirds quorum in the Presidential elections) in order to block the election of an M14 candidate in 2008, the very fact that Frangieh is asking for a modification of that electoral process is very weird. Why? Let’s see why. Because Frangieh belongs to a coalition in the parliament that holds between the third and half of the MPs in the parliament. That means that under the current constitutional rules, Frangieh – Let’s suppose for a while that he will be M8’s candidate – can block the electoral process by instructing his allies to boycott the session. Just to make it clear – and more complicated for you –  Frangieh said that a 50% plus one vote should be adopted. Thus Theoretically, Frangieh spoke nothing about the quorum.  He only mentioned what the number of votes for the winner should be once there is quorum. So if Frangieh doesn’t want to change the quorum rule in the constitution but only the voting rule, nothing makes sense. Is Frangieh suggesting that we change the quorum or the winning vote number? Let’s see.

M8 has 40% of the votes, M14 45%, and the others (Mikati, Jumblatt …)15%  (The numbers aren’t exact, but you get the point)

Case 1: Our lovely non functioning system (Quorum 66%, First round 66%, Second round 50%+1). Frangieh wants to run, but M14 and the others won’t vote for him. Frangieh instructs his allies to boycott. 40%>33% which means that there will be no quorum, thus no elections. In case the others will vote for him, that means he will have 55% of the votes. M14 boycotts, 45%>33%, meaning that there will also be no quorum.

Case 2: Quorum remains untouched with Frangieh’s amendment (Quorum 66%, First round 50%+1). Frangieh wants to run, but M14 and the others won’t vote for him. Frangieh instructs his allies to boycott. 40%>33% which means that there will be no quorum, thus no elections. However, Frangieh is saying that he is making the amendment to make life simpler and easier for the parliament to elect the president. Which means that the amendment doesn’t make any sense (See, I told you!) because the quorum boycott is still here and if he wishes not to boycott and elect the president with 50%+1 he can simply wait for the second round and keep the constitution like it was (see Cas 1)

Case 3:  Frangieh was actually talking about the quorum!  (Quorum  50%+1%, First round 50%+1).  40%<50% which means that Frangieh can’t freeze the process if he boycotts and has a very high chance of losing because 40%<50%. Unless…

Unless What?

Unless Frangieh is sure he can secure 65 MPs to vote for him. In politics you don’t actually propose something you might lose in, so there’s something fishy about this. If Frangieh meant cas 1 (or cas 2), he was probably just saying things to fill in the blanks of his speech. But if what Frangieh meant was cas 3, then something very dangerous is going on here.

Dangerous How?

If Frangieh can bring 65 votes, but not 86 (the 66% quorum that he wishes to remove in his reform) that can mean only few things. That means he isn’t a consensual candidate because he doesn’t have 66% of the votes (shocking, right?), that he will be running with M14 (See what I mean by dangerous?) against Aoun, or that Jumblatt and Mikati, along with Amal and Hezbollah and someone else will choose him as their sole candidate to the elections and throw Aoun outside which will probably make the latter closer to M14 than M8.

While the theory of having Frangieh and M14 as allies is unimaginable, the very fact that Jumblatt and Hariri have engaged in a media war lately, that Jumblatt is starting to prefer M8’s 9-6-6 formation over M14’s 8-8-8 one and that Aoun is actually getting closer to the Future Movement makes the second theory absurd yet executable.

However the most plausible explanation to this whole reform question is that Frangieh doesn’t want to extend to Suleiman for 6 years. Knowing that a boycott would create another revolutionary vacuum (Expired parliament, no president, no government, Yay!) he is probably paving the way for a small consensual amendment: only 1 (or 2?) extra year for Suleiman while implementing the reform of 50%+1 (M14 and the others should be enough to elect Suleiman), in exchange of something else for M8 (their formula for the government gets adopted? A consensual electoral law?). M8 will be theoretically still boycotting the elections – except this time it’s harmless to the electoral process.

Oh, and speaking of 50%+1, Frangieh’s Grandfather was actually elected by exactly 50%+1 of the votes. Actually, it was 50%+0.5, (he got 50 out of 99 votes. 99/2=49.5 which means he got 50%+0.5) and that is why in the picture, it’s not the speaker Sabre Hamade – his political rival who considered 50%+0.5 instead of the absolute majority (50%+1) to be unconstitutional – proclaiming him president, but Hamade’s deputy.

And look at us, complaining about the 66% quorum.