A mood of conciliation appears to be reigning over the process of the Lebanese presidential elections. The country’s rival political factions are inching forward in their bid to elect a successor to Emile Lahoud, whose term – extended by Syrian fiat in 2004 – officially expires on 23 November. For the past two weeks, House Speaker Nabih Berri and parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri have been consulting with their respective parliamentary blocs about potential presidential candidates acceptable to both camps. Berri, a key partner in the opposition, and Hariri, who leads the governing coalition, expressed confidence that by 23 October, “[Lebanon] will have a president to avoid the vacuum”.
However, the identity of the next president and the manner with which he will be elected in parliament are unknown. Optimism aside, there has not been enough tangible progress to suggest that the political deadlock will be broken anytime soon. In a country riven with communal tensions and without a monopoly of the use of legitimate force, failure to agree on a president could significantly undermine stability in the country.
Against the backdrop of deep divisions in Lebanon, the presidential issue unsurprisingly finds itself in foreign custody. As a result, a satisfactory outcome to the election will also depend on the unlikely resolution of or compromise on a number of stalemated international problems. The current tensions between Saudi Arabia (the strongest Arab ally of the governing coalition) and Syria (who along with Iran supports the opposition), on the one hand, and the important disagreements between the United States (primary foreign backer of the governing coalition) and Iran (Hizbullah’s most relevant sponsor) over the latter’s nuclear programme and allegedly destabilising role in Iraq and the region will negatively affect the process of the Lebanese election. Also, additional political assassinations of leading Lebanese communal figures and public officials (four lawmakers belonging to the March 14 camp have so far been assassinated) will only increase mutual mistrust between the ruling coalition and the opposition and decrease the chances of reaching a lasting compromise.
For almost a year, Lebanon has been experiencing a period of political/institutional paralysis and economic stagnation, with many possibly conflicting scenarios on the immediate horizon. Three scenarios are available in the next few months, the probability of which will be determined by domestic as well as foreign factors.
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I think [Rouhani] seems to be prepared to leave no stone unturned in terms of warning of the possible consequences of an election that is engineered against him, but also trying to rally those who might be sceptical about the utility of their vote to come out and cast a ballot.