Aoun following his own path as presidential elections approach

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MP Michel Aoun. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Firas Choufi

Published Thursday, April 17, 2014

MP Michel Aoun is still March 8’s undeclared presidential candidate. However, Hezbollah and Amal’s position remained the same on the pay raise for public sector employees, but to the alliance’s surprise, Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) stood against it in parliament.

For some, the scenario was no different from Aoun’s allies agreeing with March 14 in extending the parliament and the army commander’s mandates despite his opposition. But for others the divisions over the wage increase for public sector employees brought back the memories of the original days of March 8 and March 14, 2005.

For March 8, Aoun’s stances, beginning from the Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah to the 2006 Israeli war make him “a trustworthy presidential candidate,” as described by a number of political sources. “The current conditions require a president who is able to communicate with all Lebanese political factions so he can build a balanced relationship between these factions in the future. One might say that Aoun possesses such a capacity,” they added.

Following the FPM’s recent actions in parliament, sources close to March 8 said, “General Aoun is indeed our ally but recently he decided to have his own perspective.” For leading March 8 figures “the shift in Aoun’s position regarding the wage increase last week and his position on Monday were a bit shocking, not to mention that it confused and embarrassed his deputies.”

According to sources close to March 8, “The FPM deputies were the ones who demanded to raise the funding for the wage increase from 16.6 billion Lebanese Lira (L.L.) to 28 billion L.L.. All attempts to change the amount of funding were opposed by the FPM’s deputies but they found no support from their leadership.”

“Why did MP Kanaan disappear? Why did MP Nabil Nicolas claim that he didn’t have a say? MP Emile Rahme was absent, while MPs Fadi al-Awar and Estephan al-Douwayhi stood by March 8,” a prominent parliamentary source in March 8 said. “FPM deputies were shocked by this surprise decision and then they were reined in without getting any explication from their leadership about what happened.”

Some even said that Aoun “yielded to pressures exercised by the Lebanese Forces who claimed that taxes on illegal construction on the seafront targeted Christians! He was also pressured by Catholic schools and was visited by the president of the coalition for touristic establishments’ owners Jean Beiruti before the parliamentary session, hence he chose to postpone the session and form a committee.”

Meanwhile, prominent sources in March 8 said “Aoun was in fact sending a message to the Future Movement to assure them that he can understand the fears of the party controlling the economy,” adding “we shouldn’t forget that the presidential elections are getting closer but Aoun, the person we count on to make reforms in the political system, can’t yield to former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora who like always, stood yesterday by capitalists instead of regular Lebanese.”

However, a FPM deputy said “Our position about the wage increase and our choice to give more time to the commission had nothing to do with opening up to the Future Movement. In fact the FPM should be thanked for its position because March 14 and MP Walid Jumblatt’s deputies wanted to stop the increase at all costs. In case a draft doesn’t get enough parliamentary votes, it cannot be discussed until the parliament is convened again next October. In fact, General Aoun warded off attempts to postpone the legislation for a long period of time and gave negotiations a second chance”.

In the end, we should bare in mind that it is the presidential election season and according to March 8 sources; we should brace ourselves for a lot more surprises before May 25.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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