Lebanon’s Presidential Election Goes Into Overtime

The Lebanese presidential election was postponed for the seventh time last Friday as the majority and minority faction leaders in the country’s parliament were again unable to reach a consensus. The election has become an intense football match in which each side is playing defensively in order to avoid losing.
It seems that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is acting as the game’s referee, but neither of the teams trusts his officiating.
Although Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement party led by Michel Aoun, which are the main members of the March 8 group, have reached a consensus on preparing the ground for Lebanese Armed Forces commander General Michel Suleiman to be the compromise candidate for the presidential election, the totalitarian March 14 group, which is led by Saad Hariri and supports the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, is still obstinately sticking to its stance.
According to Lebanon’s constitution, senior public servants can only run for the presidency two years after officially resigning from their post.
Although the moderate Maronite Christian Suleiman, who is viewed as neutral, has the best chance of winning the election, he is facing a constitutional hurdle because he is still serving as the army commander.
To overcome this obstacle, the March 14 and March 8 groups recently signed a document in which five MPs from each group agreed to petition parliament for a constitutional amendment that would modify Article 49 of the Lebanese Constitution.
Last week Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met al-Mustaqbal Party leader Saad Hariri and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who had traveled to Beirut to stage-manage the Lebanese presidential election.
However, the March 14 group later announced that it would only accept the candidacy of Suleiman if Hariri is given the post of prime minister.
Thus, the March 14 group’s opposition to Berri’s plans has returned the presidential election process to the impasse which had almost been resolved.
The two sides seem to have become exhausted from this dangerous political game, and the Lebanese nation can no longer tolerate the March 14 group’s obstructionism.
According to unconfirmed reports, Tuesday, December 11 (today) has been set as the final date for the parliament to elect a new president.
With the election going into overtime, Suleiman appears to be the best compromise candidate for the ill-omened presidential seat.
Yet, if the March 14 group wants to continue dictating its conditions to other groups, this will only exacerbate the Lebanon crisis.
But with the presidential post vacant, Lebanon’s army commander could use his constitutional authority to dissolve the parliament and call early parliamentary elections.
It is clear that the March 8 group has made the utmost efforts to maintain national security and prevent an unwanted civil war.
Now the ball is in the March 14 group’s court, and if they do not wisely use the opportunity, Lebanon will surely experience a very serious new crisis

By Hassan Hanizadeh
Tehran Times 

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