Why Lebanon's presidential vacuum is getting more than a little awkward
The recent nominations of March 8 Maronites Franjieh and Aoun by rival March 14 politicians - a sign of political discord, or an attempt to mend sectarian rivalries? Nobody is quite sure. (AFP/File)
It’s no news that Lebanon has been without a head of state for quite some time now – former President Michel Suleiman stepped down without a successor in May 2014. Though the role of president, traditionally a Maronite Christian, has remained mostly ceremonial since the end of Lebanon’s civil war, the now almost two-year leadership vacuum has rustled growing discontent with longtime government deadlock.
Recent developments have pointed to two controversial frontrunners for the job. Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, a member of the anti-Assad March 14 camp, raised eyebrows in December when he nominated Suleiman Franjieh, a pro-Assad Maronite figure and member of the rival March 8 bloc.
To complicate matters further, March 14 figure Samir Geagea announced his support for archenemy Michel Aoun’s presidential candidacy in January. Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement is aligned with March 8.
The whole situation is a little bit awkward (and stunning), especially for those old enough to remember Lebanon’s civil war days - Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces, was behind the murder of Suleiman Franjeh’s father Tony amid intra-Christian squabbles for wartime power. And even younger Lebanese can remember the 2005 assassination of Saad Hariri's father, former PM and political giant Rafiq Hariri, likely at the hands of people linked to March 8 ally Hezbollah.
Observers aren’t really sure what to make of the recent nominations. Some are optimistic that politicians want to mend divisive sectarian rivalries.
Others are looking through less rosy lenses, speculating that Franjieh’s bid for president – and Hariri’s support – could cost the March 14 bloc some important Christian allies. Franjieh has also dismissed reports of disunity within the March 8 bloc, telling an-Nahar he held over two-thirds of the required parliamentary votes to become president. Meanwhile, Hezbollah has announced its support for Aoun, spurring opposing parties to outright denounce his bid for the job.
In any case, government deadlock is a sore subject for most Lebanese, especially after the late-summer 2015 “You Stink” protests in Beirut, which spoke against the government’s inability (amongst a plethora of other things) to get rid of growing mounds of garbage.
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