08/29/2022, 11.27
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Clash between Prime Minister and President lead to fears of institutional stalemate

by Fady Noun

Tensions remain high between Christian Michel Aoun and Sunni Najib Mikati. In the background are the contrasts between the pro-Iranian faction and the Western bloc. General Jospeh Aoun's approach a conciliatory factor. The coming weeks will tell whether Lebanon is moving towards confrontation or appeasement.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - With just a few days to go before the September 1st deadline, the beginning of the term set by the Constitution for the election of the successor to head of state Michel Aoun, whose mandate expires on October 31st, the political situation in Lebanon is unclear.

The institutional chaos involves both the government and the presidential office, in a climate of continuing confessional tensions between the president himself and the prime minister in charge, Najib Mikati. 

On the presidential side, observers fear a vacancy in the supreme judiciary, in the absence of a parliamentary majority capable of electing the head of state in the first round, with 85 out of 128 votes.

The internal situation in Lebanon remains polarised by the cold war between the United States and Iran. The forces on the ground are, on the one hand, the Free Patriotic Movement (CLP), supported by the Shiite Amal-Hezbollah tandem, and on the other the pro-Western camp, which calls itself 'sovereignist', and whose backbone is the Future Current (Sunni) and the Lebanese Forces (Christian).

While neither side can elect a president, both are able to prevent the two-thirds quorum of the House from being reached. An essential step, the latter, in view of the opening of the electoral session.

The hypothesis of a presidential vacancy is provided for by the Lebanese Constitution, which, at this juncture, in the name of the principle of institutional continuity, temporarily entrusts presidential prerogatives to the Council of Ministers. 

The question is whether these prerogatives can be assumed by a resigning Council of Ministers, which is only called upon to conduct current business. And it is on this point that internal controversy is raging at the moment.

The presidential camp is convinced that this is not possible, while the pro-Western area thinks differently. In all this, there is no authority that can act as an arbiter on the Constitution to interpret the elements of dispute within it and decide on the merits other than Parliament itself, which only complicates the situation. 

Nominated by the new Assembly that emerged in the aftermath of last May's elections to form a new government, Mikati is at odds with President Aoun on this issue, negotiating with the head of state from a position of strength: he in fact holds two roles at the same time, that of prime minister in charge and the second as president of an interim government called to deal with current affairs.

Moreover, while President Michel Aoun is trying to save the resigning executive by grafting six new ministers of state to represent the main parliamentary currents, Mikati wants to replace the energy minister, close to the CPL, with a view to forming an independent sector 'regulatory authority'. The reform is being urged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with which Lebanon is engaged in negotiations vital to its economic future.

In the absence of a new government, there are some voices claiming that presidential prerogatives certainly cannot be assumed by an outgoing government; the same voices appeal to the head of state to remain in office until an agreement is reached between himself and the prime minister in charge on the formation of the future executive.

However, this prospect was seen as an outrage by Dar el-Fatwa, the supreme reference body of the Sunni community, which called on the president to 'respect his constitutional oath'.

There are currently three serious candidates for the upcoming presidential elections: that of Gebran Bassil, Northern leader Sleiman Frangié and General Joseph Aoun, commander of the army and no relation to the current head of state.

Nevertheless, experts agree in ruling out the election of Bassil or that of Frangié, one too closely linked to Hezbollah and the other to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

According to former Amal MP Mohammed Obeid, the intermediate solution, which would enjoy the approval - so far only tacit - of the Maronite Patriarch and Hezbollah, would consist in a reshuffle of the current government, without, however, putting their hands in their wallets. This is also the case in the election of General Aoun, whom neither side seems to consider a 'challenge candidate'. The coming weeks will tell whether Lebanon is moving towards a period of sterile clashes or towards a fundamental agreement, a guarantee of greater tranquility.


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