03/08/2023, 00.00
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Beirut, Maronite Patriarch: a president 'free and independent of affiliations' is needed

by Fady Noun

The battle to elect a new head of state enters a new phase. The Shiite tandem relaunches Frangié's candidature. Behind the scenes, major regional and international actors are moving to find a common candidature. From Bkerké contacts with the various Christian factions to try to find a common name. Waiting for a new convocation of the Chamber.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The long battle to elect a new president of the Lebanese Republic, whose office has been vacant since last November, has entered a new phase this week, marked by a double announcement.

The explicit support of the Shiite Amal-Hezbollah tandem for the candidacy of former minister Sleiman Frangié (57), close to Syria and with personal ties to President Bashar al-Assad, and the decision of Maronite Patriarch Beshara Raï to bet on a name 'untied of any affiliation'.

A position that leads him to reject Frangié's candidacy, towards which there is also the open hostility of the two main Christian formations, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement. 

However, despite supporting Frangié, who claims his impartiality in the face of a hardening of the Christian front - characterised by harsh statements against him - the pro-Iranian front has left the door open to a compromise candidacy.

An opening that leaves room for manoeuvre despite the threat of 'divorce' threatened by Kataëb leader Sami Gemayel, and which fuels hopes of seeing a president elected by the summer. 

"The election of a president clashes, unfortunately, with a disagreement over his membership" both of the "moumanaa" (Hezbollah and satellite movements) and the "sovereignist faction" composed of parties and deputies hostile to the pro-Tehran bloc and its militia, the cardinal stressed.

"The only solution," he added, "is therefore to break out of this pattern and elect a head of state free of all ties, affiliations, camps or axis of alliances. The Maronite patriarch's stance (and Hezbollah's verbal relaxation) should relaunch an electoral process that has been completely deadlocked for more than four months and open it up, hijacking it, on 'a third way'. 

Indeed, since Michel Aoun's mandate expires on 31 October 2022, the MPs, deeply divided internally, have been unable to name a successor and no camp enjoys a clear majority in the House to impose its own candidate.

Complicating the picture is the sometimes contradictory position of a parliamentary 'soft underbelly' made up of Sunni MPs who have been travelling in disarray since Saad Hariri's withdrawal from politics, and a multi-confessional group of some 15 MPs linked to the October 2019 uprising.

Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces, has also used the weapon of boycott by threatening to prevent the quorum of 86 votes out of 128 deputies that makes Frangié's election valid, if the Shia party is able to secure the 65 votes needed for victory in the second round, as the Constitution stipulates.

Regional and international actors

The presidential battle also has a regional and international component. At least four countries, whose representatives met on 6 February in Paris, have a say in this deadline: the United States and France on the western shore, while to the east there are Iran and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, some well-informed diplomats also include Egypt and Qatar in the game.

Indeed, it is significant that the day after the Maronite patriarch's statements, the representative of one of these 'big voters', Saudi Ambassador Walid Boukhari, started a new tour of talks with personalities involved in the presidential elections from Bkerké.

He declared himself 'close to the positions' of the cardinal, but avoided naming names or interfering in the candidacies. The French ambassador, Anne Grillo, joined this new 'diplomatic waltz' yesterday by visiting the president of the Chamber.

Finally, it should be noted that as part of the attempts to break the deadlock, the head of the Maronite Church has instructed Mgr Antoine Bou Najm, Maronite Archbishop of Antélias, to ask interested Christian personalities to draw up a list of approved presidential candidates.

The hope is to bring out names common to these lists. Among the personalities who could benefit from a common consensus base in this new form of consultation are former ministers Roger Dib and Ziyad Baroud.

Finally, on the legislative side, the Speaker of the House awaits the outcome of these new consultations to convene a new session of the House for voting operations.

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See also
Beirut, Card. Raï meets Hezbollah: step towards appointment of new president
10/01/2023 11:44
Maronite Patriarch attacks adversaries who 'do not want a Christian president'
15/11/2022 10:16
Beirut, the spectre of the presidential vacuum
26/10/2022 13:22
Lebanon, a nation adrift in an institutional vacuum
12/10/2022 08:00
Divisions and tensions on the eve of the elections on Mount Lebanon and in the Bekaa


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