The alternative presidential candidate to Michel Aoun, Suleiman Franjieh, has announced that he is not withdrawing his candidacy so it looks as though there may actually be a contest on October 31st. Or he may be “persuaded” to withdraw before then; who knows.
Meanwhile, the prospect of Saad Hariri being asked to form a government is very much on everyone’s mind. Could he do for Lebanon now what his father achieved on the 1990s? This article discusses the issue: –
The chances of Michel Aoun being elected president of Lebanon when parliament convenes on 31 October seem to be increasing. Although many members of Saad Hariri’s Future Movement are unhappy with his giving his endorsement to Aoun, it is reported this morning that at present only 5 Future MPs will vote against Aoun: –
Of course there is still likely to be a second candidate – Suleiman Franjieh, unless he can be persuaded to withdraw.
Assuming that a president is elected next Monday it is likely that parliamentary elections will be held within a few months. The present parliament has twice extended its own term due to the absence of a president. Parliament is elected for a term of four years. The last election was in 2009; its term was extended in June 2013 to Nov 2014 and then to June 2017. The following article about the members may be of interest: –
Whenever the next parliamentary elections are held, there will undoubtedly be arguments about the election law. The present law dates from 1960 and many believe that it is long due for change. But in reality since the present law seems to suit all interested parties, change is unlikely.
Improving the environment is not something close to the hearts of many in Lebanon. One only has to look at the litter to be found in every street, the issues surrounding garbage disposal (or lack thereof) in the last 18 months and the air polution that is so obvious in the skies over Beirut when viewed from a distance.
Perhaps there is some hope, as this article from today’s Daily Star, suggests: –
Continuing the saga of the election of a Lebanese president, The National has published the following article –
Debate is now intense; will Hariri’s endorsement lead to the election when the next scheduled vote takes place on 31 October? Rumors say that Saudi Arabia is unhappy with Hariri’s action, but it is hard to believe that he would have done it without clearing it with Riyadh. Many of his fellow Sunni MPs are very unhappy and could well cast blank votes or vote against Aoun; Amal Movement leader and Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri is also very unhappy has has vowed not to vote for Aoun, but has told the candidate that he will not deny the voting session a quorum; Druze leader Walid Jumblat is meeting his 11 members of parliament today to discuss the matter. This group, sometimes referred to as “kingmakers” could decide the matter; John Kerry, while welcoming the initiative, has doubts that it will lead the election of a president; What will be the attitude of Aoun’s long time ally Hizbollah?
Watch this space for continuing comments.
I am back after a very long time, but from now on expect regular postings in this Blog.
Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014, when the term of Michel Suleiman expired. Since then parliament, which elects the president in Lebanon has failed to elect a successor in spite of over 40 attempts. Sessions called by the Speaker for the purpose of a presidential election have never been quorate because of a boycott by the supporters of Michel Aoun. Yesterday the following article was published, speculating on the possibility of Saad Hariri endorsing Aoun in attempt to end the stalemate.
A few hours later Hariri did indeed announce his support for the election of Aoun and now all thoughts are centered on what will happen on 31 October, when the next session of parliament has been called for the purpose of electing a president. Aoun’s success is by no means certain – there is still another candidate in the running – Suleiman Franjieh – and there are many who oppose Aoun.
Back after a long time.
Lebanon at last has a new government, after nearly six months of haggling over who gets which ministry. It is no surprise that the composition of the new cabinet is markedly pro-Syrian and contains a majority of members who support Hizbullah. It is the first time for a long time that the country has a government which does not attempt to be one of “National Unity”, embracing all parts of the political spectrum, and this may mean that it can take decisions – maybe even controversial ones! The new opposition has vowed to do everything possible to bring down the government, but given that it has the support of a majority of members of parliament, it is difficult to see how this could be achieved by constitutional means, unless Mr Jumblat changes sides again.
There is much for the government to do, if only to clear the backlog of issues that have accumulated since the previous government was ousted in January. Top of the list is the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), set up by the UN in 2007 to investigate the 2005 assassination of Rafic Hariri and prosecute those responsible. It is difficult to believe that it is a coincidence that the STL’s first indictments, said to name 4 Hizbullah members, were delivered to the Minister of Justice while the cabinet was discussing the clause in its policy statement concering its position on the STL. Much publicity was given to the names said to be in the indictment, which were leaked to the media with remarkable speed. Hizbullah, naturally, denies that those indicted were involved and says that there is no way that they will ever be handed over to the court by Lebanon. This, in any case, is academic, as those named almost certainly left Lebanon long ago for Syria and/or Iran.
Well, yesterday the Lebanese parliament gave an overwhelming vote of confidence in the national unity government formed by Fouad Siniora, despite reservations expressed by some of the 60 members who spoke and sometimes heated debate between members of different political persuasions. So now the second stage of the process agreed in Doha has been accomplished. The president was elected and the national unity government has been established. The next task is amending the electoral law in time to hold parliamentary elections in May 2009. Although general agreement on the necessary reforms was achieved in Doha, there is undoubtedly room for different interpretations on what has to be done and how to achieve it!
Otherwise, no-one expects much from what is a government with a limited life – 9 month maximum. It is very unlikely, given the opposition veto powers in cabinet, that anything controversial will be proposed, let alone decided. Matters such as privatisation or an increase in the VAT rate, which were among the commitments given at the Paris III conference, are unlikely to see the light of day.
And what does the rest of the world make of the ministerial statement to which parliament gave its approval. Typical of the headlines in the western media were “Lebanon to pass law legitimising Hezbollah attacks on Israel”. Inaccurate, but not so far from the truth. Undoubtedly Israel is unhappy with developments, and has made it clear that it will regard any attack by Hezbollah as sanctioned by the Lebanese government and as a result may retaliate against any target in the country. This would differ from its attitude in the 2006 war, which was clearly against Hezbollah rather that the country, although this did not prevent the death of some 1200 civilians and substantial damage to infrastructure.
Today the president starts an official visit to Damascus, where it is expected that there will be agreement on establishing diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria and the exchange of ambassadors. There are many other matters on the agenda and expectations of progress on some of them, notwithsnding the parliamentary majority’s reservations.
I have been somewhat negligent lately – nothing posted since 28 May, the day that the new president was elected. Now, today, more than seven weeks after the Doha Agreement was signed, we finally have the promised National Unity Government formed. Having seen the bickering and bargaining that has gone on for the last 30 days I cannot see how it is ever going to manage to achieve anything – personally I do not expect anything controversial to be discussed, much less there to be any agreement and action on such issues. The best that we can hope for is a period of calm and, perhaps, the passing into law of the new electoral law, the general terms of which were agreed in Doha. As usual, we shall see!
Following is a list of ministers making up Lebanon’s new cabinet:
Prime Minister: Fouad Saniora
Finance Ministry: Mohammed Shatah
Justice Ministry: Ibarahim Najjar
Social Affairs Ministry: Mario Aoun
Industry Ministry:Ghazi Zoaiter
Tourism Ministry: Elie Marouni
Culture Ministry: Tamam Salam
Environment Ministry: Tony Karam
Deputy Prime Minister : Issam abou Jamra
Defense Ministry: Elias Murr
Ministers of State: Wael Abou Faour, Nassib Lahoud, Jean Ogassapian, Ali Qanso, Khaled Qabani
Refugees Ministry: Raymond Audi
Administrative Reforms Ministry: Ibrahim Shamseddine
Economy and Trade Ministry: Mohammed Safadi
Interior and Municipalities Ministry: Ziad Baroud
Youth and Sport: Talal Arslan
Education Ministry: Bahia Hariri
Transport and Public Buildings Ministry: Ghazi Aridi
Foreign Affairs Ministry: Fawzi Salloukh
Energy and Water Ministry: Alain Taborian
Labor Ministry: Mohammed Fneish
Health Ministry: Mohammed Jawad Khalife
Agriculture Ministry: Elie Skaff
Telecommunications Ministry: Gebran Bassil
Information Ministry: Tareq Mitri
Now the president can leave for the Euro-Med conference in Paris tomorrow – he had been threatening not to attend if the government was not formed before he was due to leave. It might prove an interesting meeting, the attendees including Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Turkish Prime Minister Ergodan. The latter is actively involved in indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel and Israel has indicated that it would like to bring Lebanon into the peace discussions. Of course, the biggest problem with regard to Israeli-Lebanon peace is the fate of the approximately 400,000 Palestinian refugees in the country. Most of these are 1948 refugees or their descendants and no one seriously expects that they are going to return to their homes in what is now and will remain the State of Israel. Equally, their permanent settlement and naturalisation in Lebanon is fraught with issues; since most are Sunni Muslims the fragile sectarian balance would be seriously changed and, publicly at least, no politician is prepared to accept this.
My comment earlier today about the presence of the Turkish prime minister at the election of the new Lebanese president last Sunday may well have been right. Today the Syrian president met a visiting UK parliamentary delegation in Damascus and referred to the possibility of Lebanese/Israeli peace talks. It looks as though Syria is preparing to dump Hizbullah, but if this happens how will Hizbullah react and what will be the attitude of Iran? Watch this space.
One week after the successful conclusion of the talks in Doha, Lebanon has a new president – the consensus candidate Michel Suleiman – and the parliamentary majority has nominated outgoing Prime Minister, Fouad Sinioura, as their choice to form the next government. Now begins the process of forming the new 30 member cabinet, in which the majority will nominate 16 members, the Hizbullah led opposition 11 and the president 3. No doubt there will be a lot of negotiating and who gets which ministry, but the process, lead by the new president, is expected to be completed fairly quickly.
What does all this mean for Lebanon and the region? The election and swearing-in of the new president on Sunday evening was attended by, among others, the foreign ministers of Syria and Iran (who sat side by side), the Saudi, French and Italian foreign ministers and, of course the Ruler of Qatar and his prime minister, through whose efforts the compromise was reached. Also present was a US Congressional delegation of 6 people, and another, somewhat strange, attendee was the Turkish prime minister. We must remember, however, that Israel and Syria are at present conducting peace talks under Turkish auspices; could it be that Mr Erdogan was testing the waters on the possibility of bringing Lebanon into the peace talks?
It is impossible that the deal done in Doha could have materialised without the agreement of Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Undoubtably, all were concerned that the events in Lebanon could develop into a wider Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East, something which, it seems, none of them wants at this time.
If the Syrian/Israeli talks produce results it will be a blow for Hizbullah and Iran, but can only benefit Lebanon. Little is likely to happen until a change of Administration in Washington and we must hope and pray that Mr Bush does not decide to embark on any more ill-advised ventures in the region during his last months in office.
Continue reading “Wednesday 28 May 2008”