Dim prospects for electing a new Lebanese president

The distribution of power in parliament does not give a sufficient majority for any group to elect a president without the consent of the other.

2016/08/14 Issue: 68 Page: 5

The Arab Weekly
Rami Rayees

Scarcely has the election of a new president of Lebanon been an issue of parliamentary votes. Through recent history, especially after gaining independence in 1943, Lebanon has been dependent on regional and international stakeholders to broker a deal in the final stages of the six-year presidential term.

The anticipated 2014 election was no exception. Former, and most recent, president Michel Suleiman was elected as a result of a national-regional-international compromise brokered by Qatar in May 2008 after Lebanese parties appeared on the verge a new civil war. Hezbollah had occupied Beirut and headed towards the mountains where they were fiercely opposed.

The case has been the same with almost every presidential election. What varied was the identity of the players who had a say in who might become the next president. In certain instances, for example, it was the Soviets, the Americans, the Israelis, Egyptians, Syrians as well as others. During the Syrian hegemony of Lebanon, then Syrian president Hafez Assad “informed’ the Lebanese people of “their” will to extend the term of late president Elias Hrawi in an interview with the Egyptian Al-Ahram newspaper.

In 2014 the scene was quite different. The Syrian revolution that had erupted three years earlier was descending into civil war as the regime refused to acknowledge the minimum legitimate rights of its people for dignity and democracy. Some Lebanese factions were increasingly involved in the strife which aggravated internal political divisions and reduced the possibility of reaching an agreement on presidential elections.

At the regional level, the two players that highly affected Lebanese politics — Saudi Arabia and Iran — were deeply antagonistic to one another. Their differences stretched from Bahrain to Yemen and Iraq and did not exclude Lebanon.

Tehran seems to be reluctant to ease the Lebanese presidential deadlock before it ensures a political prize somewhere else, or, at least, before the outcome of the Syrian war becomes clearer.

There is a lot of talk as to whether Hezbollah, and Iran eventually, wish to ever elect a new Lebanese president. Discussions on this issue stem from the benefit this axis, along with the Syrian regime, can make from keeping Lebanon a playground after it exhausted its role as a battleground in the 197590 civil strife.

It is true that the Lebanese president, after the Taif agreement in 1989 has lost some prerogatives in a constitutional rearrangement of authorities, yet, the presence of the president would, at least, guarantee the proper functioning of institutions instead of sustaining paralysis.

With a presidential vacuum the minimum requirements of statehood are missing. That allows several political forces to increase their strength at the expense of the central government and its apparatus. It seems that the state is the weakest player in the Lebanese political scene.

Despite uninterrupted calls by the international community for Lebanon to elect a new president, no serious indications reveal that such an eventuality is imminent. The distribution of power in the Lebanese parliament does not give an upper hand or sufficient majority for any group to elect a president without the consent of the other.

At the regional level, the unprecedented crisis in SaudiIranian relations makes an imminent election improbable. The hot spots in various Arab states are but a proxy confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh. Therefore, is it in anyone’s interest to surrender the presidential election for free?

Rami Rayess is editor-in-chief of Lebanese Al Anbaa Electronic Newspaper (anbaaonline.com) and spokesman for the Progressive Socialist Party in Lebanon.

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