Analysis – The Lebanese Presidential Candidacy Confusion December 2015

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The recent nomination of the deputy Sleiman Frangieh took everyone by surprise because of the seeming ripple of movement that it generated in an otherwise stifled environment surrounding the election of a President in Lebanon.

Let us start in the beginning where suddenly out of nowhere, rumors began circulating about a secret visit between Frangieh and former Prime Minister Saad Harriri in Paris. As is the case in Lebanon, there is very rarely smoke without fire and the rumor finally emerged as being correct.

There has been much speculation about how this meeting came about; Whether the meeting was planned or spontaneous and whether Frangieh communicated the relevant information of this encounter to his strongest ally Hezbollah ahead of time is still debatable, but what is clear is that after the meeting he certainly informed them about the discussions that were held and the seriousness of Hariri’s proposal.

The talks between the men covered the details of his presidency including the matter of an electoral law which would be vital in the formulation of the overall package.

The news of the meeting triggered a flurry of reactions and the shock waves of this Parisian encounter spread out into the Lebanese political pond.

While some navigated the news eagerly, including the international community who saw an acceptable opportunity to resolve the political vacuum, others were rocked at their core by the implications of such a possibility.

The outcome of all the deliberations is that the only clear thing about Frangieh’s candidacy to-date is that it is unclear. It is unclear for many reasons including:

1- General Aoun firm rebuttal:

The validity of Frangieh’s candidacy is being rebuffed with the “silent treatment” by the General with the belief that if a candidate with Frangieh’s affiliations are acceptable then the preference goes to General Aoun.

2- Saad Hariri’s slowness to declare:

The delay in the Announcement by Hariri has fueled the belief by his contesters that he does not have the means of his politics. This remains to be seen.

This lack of any declaration by Saad Harirri to-date can lead to believe that he has not received the reassurances he needs, both financial or otherwise, to push this deal through at this time. The Prime Ministership would bring with it financial rewards and it is fair to note that with the change of leadership in Saudi Arabia, the question begs to be asked: How much favor does Hariri really carry today with the King and specifically with the Crown Prince?

On the other hand the postponement of Hariri’s visit to Lebanon seems to be linked to the larger implications surrounding the continuing matter of his security.

3- Hezbollah’s silence:

This is a reflection of their own conundrum confronted with one of their favored candidates becoming problematic. This dilemma was brought about because of their engagement with General Aoun and the fear of his retaliation and retrenchment into a Christian-only front if challenged by Frangieh’s accession to the presidency.

For Hezbollah, this would lead to their loss of a powerful ally on the ground and create a dangerous confessional polarization at a time when Lebanon can least afford such antagonistic stances. In Parliament this would also fragment their voting coalition and leave them without Christian representation. If they are to reconsider Frangieh’s candidacy it would certainly be tied into their insistence on a new electoral law which would not perpetuate the existing parliamentary balance of power.

3- Samir Geagea’s isolation:

Geagea is certainly not a proponent of Frangieh’s candidacy in light of their bloody history and they rivalry in the North of the country. Frangieh’s nomination has left Geagea publicly isolated from his own political bloc confronted with the uncoordinated nomination of a candidate from “the other side” by Saad Hariri, the leader of his block.

This attempt has also revealed tensions that had been suspected for some time between Geagea and Hariri. This has forced Geagea into a retaliatory stance where he is measuring the consequences of displeasing his Saudi sponsors and gambling with the option of nominating General Aoun to avoid Frangieh.

To sum up why things are so unclear, it is because the usual lines of identification have been crisscrossed. The leader of the March 14 movement proposed a March 8th candidate unilaterally, and the allies of each group lost their points of reference in the process. It would seem therefore that the hard sell for both Frangieh and Hariri is from their own camps as they are in fact being undermined mostly by their allies.

On the scale of Lebanon, Interestingly this latest attempt has placed the March duality into the mixer and whatever will come out now in the next week or so, will never be the same. Expectations have been shattered and feathers ruffled on all sides.

It will take some time for this dust to settle but if it does settle into nothing again then the matter of the election of a President will also turn to dust, which would be a lost opportunity for Lebanon to resolve the vacuum and safeguard the State’s institutions.

Tracy Chamoun

Baabda –