Lebanese President Michel Aoun concludes his six-year presidential term on Monday, leaving no successor to replace him. This follows his announcement on Sunday that he had accepted the resignation of the current caretaker government led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who failed to form a government after the elections in May of this year.
In Lebanon, the president is traditionally chosen by gaining at least a two-thirds majority of the parliament’s 128 members. According to an agreement called the National Pact, settled just before the country’s independence from the French in 1943, the president must always be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.
Marwan Abdallah, the international secretary of the Kataeb Party, one of the country’s Christian political parties, told The Media Line that, although the president must be a Maronite Christian, there are different Christian parties, which have different candidates, and the parliament has not agreed on one of them yet.
The problem, he says, is not that Sunnis and Shiites must vote for a Maronite Christian. “This has been the case for the past 80 years – there are political alliances between different parties,” he said.
The question is: Which Maronite is going to be the president? And, most relevant for gaining the support of parliamentarians: What political affiliation will the new president have?
“Would he be more likely to support Hizbullah and the Iranians, or will the president be leaning toward the Gulf countries and the West? Would he be willing to put all the big problems on the table or just postpone the problems for the next six years?” asked Abdallah.
Mohamad Radwan Al Omar, president of the Lebanese Assembly for Inclusive Development and representative adviser of Lebanon on MediateGuru’s Global Advisory Board, explained that the Lebanese parliament is divided into two camps: one led by Hizbullah and backed by Iran and Russia, and the other one closer to the West and to the Sunni regional powers, to which the Sunni parties belong.
Al Omar told The Media Line that attempts earlier this month to select a new president failed because the camp led by Hizbullah, gripped by an internal dispute, failed to agree on a candidate.
On the other hand, he added, the Western coalition, together with the independent parliamentarians, backed Michel Moawad twice without success. “It is now up to this alliance to fix their internal disagreements in order to elect a new president,” he concluded.
Jamal Wakim, a professor of history and international relations at the Lebanese University in Beirut, told The Media Line that the parliament has not chosen a president because there are too many contenders. “Though no one is able to be backed by a majority, no one wants to step down,” he said. That is why he believes it will take at least a year for the parliament to choose a new president.
Abdallah points out that this situation leaves Lebanon with a caretaker government that cannot legally convene and make decisions, and with no president either. “If you don’t have the government and you don’t have a president, how would you govern the country?” he asked.
However, Wakim says this is not a rare situation for the Lebanese. “We are used to having vacuums in power, and people care more about their [daily] living.”
This vacuum finds Lebanon amid economic, financial, and political crises, Abdallah notes, adding that, with the winter coming and the current energy crisis, the situation will most likely worsen.
“You have only one or two hours of [energy] supply per day, which is nothing. With all these problems, I’m not sure how we will survive,” he said. “We used to hope for 24 hours of electricity per day; now I’m hoping for eight hours. We used to hope to live a life and have good businesses; now we hope to get our own money out of the bank,” he said.
The stresses of day-to-day living take people’s minds off politics. “The standards are going down, and I think that now nobody cares if there’s a president or not, if there’s a government or not, as long as they can have their daily life dealt with, especially with bread and gas and the basic stuff that is now very hard to find,” Abdallah said.
Al Omar believes that the caretaker government will try as much as possible to fill the current political vacuum, but he notes that it is not authorized to take the major, important decisions that the Lebanese people desperately need now to overcome the current crisis.