Will the Future Movement abandon its favored candidates once again?

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A handout picture distributed by the Lebanese Forces on April 4, 2014 shows Lebanese Christian leader Samir Geagea (C) and his wife and Parliament Member Setrida Geagea (C-L) attending a press conference in Maarab, northeast of Beirut. (Photo: AFP-Lebanese Forces/Aldo Ayoub)

By: Nicolas Nassif

Published Saturday, April 12, 2014

Almost all Lebanese political factions agree that none of the current presidential candidates will win in the first round of voting, which requires a two-thirds majority of MPs, implying that the coming elections are expected to bring an unconventional challenge. Some analysts assert that none of the prominent candidates from both March 8 and March 14 will be elected president due to the deep divisions between the two political camps, ultimately leading to the need for a consensus candidate.

The situation today is different from 2008. Back then President Michel Suleiman was elected following a written agreement to name him as a candidate within the framework of the Doha Accord- a first in the history of the Lebanese presidential elections. Six years have passed but divisions between March 8 and March 14 have yet to be bridged.

In 2007, potential candidates were more evident and their campaigns were less confusing. However, today March 8 and 14 Forces are still pushing constitutional time limits just like they did in the last elections, when the president’s post remained vacant for six months.

Back then, March 14 equally named four candidates: MP Boutros Harb, MP Robert Ghanem, late MP Nassib Lahoud and former President Amin el-Gemayel, though the latter had a lesser chance as he had already been a president in the past.

March 14 said that choosing the final candidate would depend on the prevailing situation as the elections approach and would require a consensus between all four candidates. Afterwards, three of them would withdraw.

March 14 linked the political situation to the profile of its candidate. Some even suggested that there was a conflict between March 14 leaders. Head of the Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora supported Lahoud, while MP Saad Hariri supported Ghanem and head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea stood by Boutros Harb.

Political maneuvering that started even months before the end of President Emile Lahoud’s mandate linked between the candidacy of these four figures and a quorum in the parliament. Accordingly, Nassib Lahoud appeared to win only half of the MPs’ votes, Harb the required two-thirds, while Ghanem was considered a consensus candidate. But in the end, March 14 took a whole different approach that their leadership had objected to before; it opted to amend the constitution to elect the army commander as the new president.

In 2007, and even though no actual elections took place, the Future Movement abandoned its four proposed candidates, exactly 48 hours before President Emile Lahoud’s term came to an end.

In a meeting attended by Siniora, Hariri and Jumblatt, which excluded their two main Christian allies, Gemayel and Geagea, a plan was drawn up to elect the army commander as a consensus candidate. The surprising announcement revealed a trick that the four candidates have fallen into.

Today, the Future Movement is playing the same game. Like it did in 2007 with its proposed candidates, today it is saying that Samir Geagea is its candidate but so are the other individuals. However, the final decision is not up to the Future Movement alone but also to its allies, including new candidates: Gemayel, Harb, Ghanem and Geagea.

The Future Movement put Geagea, Harb and Ghanem on the same level but refrained from mentioning Gemayel a lot. It has so far showed an announced commitment to a March 14 candidate but it its saying that it all depends on “the prevailing situation,” as an excuse for not choosing the president at this time, maybe so it won’t choose any of them like it did in 2007.

Contrary to the situation in 2007, when Shia ministers withdrew from the Siniora government and Hezbollah and the Future Movement were in a fierce confrontation, today it seems that both parties within the coalition government have agreed to realistically approach the presidential elections and refrain from provocations that would result in clashes like those of May 7, 2008.

However, Geagea has a different point of view. For him, he is more qualified than all other Christian factions in March 14 to give Hariri and the Future Movement Christian support that it would need in the battle against Hezbollah and its Christian ally Michel Aoun. The goals of Geagea’s campaign and the methods he has been adopting don’t exactly fit with Hariri’s position who has remained silent about Geagea’s candidacy since he announced it on April 4, leaving his deputies to comment about it.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah has implied that it supports the nomination of General Michel Aoun without publicly announcing that he is the party’s only candidate, but Speaker Nabih Berri has yet to send his approval. Hezbollah found itself in a similar position back in 2007 and had to go along with the election of Suleiman as an integral part of the Doha Accord. Back then, Hezbollah gave Aoun an unrealistic veto about the appointment of a new army commander, which was later traded to get Aoun a better representation in the government under the new president.

Just like the March 14 candidates, Aoun was described as a polarizing candidate and it was hard to elect him amid such a deep Shia – Sunni split. Nothing has changed about March 8, but Aoun himself has apparently changed. Unlike Geagea who is presenting himself as a one-sided candidate, Aoun seeks to appear like a consensus nominee supported by Sunnis and Shia alike, while- as in the years that preceded the Taef Accord - also chosen by Christians, or at least a majority of them.

Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri was asked why he hasn’t announced a clear position about naming Aoun as a candidate following Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s statement saying that his presidential candidate is already known. Berri said: “Did Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah name his candidate?” “No” he was told, “Then the one who hasn’t given a name is just like the one who hasn’t taken a position,” he answered.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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