Consensus Eludes Factions in Lebanese Presidential Election

Rick Moran
Even with French Foriegn Minister Bernard Kouchner shuttling between the pro-government and opposition sides, trying to find some formula that would allow a consensus candidate for president to be elected later this week, it appears that all of his efforts are going for naught.

Kouchner is about ready to start naming names of those who are standing in the way of a deal:



French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner threatened Monday to expose the parties that are hampering a Paris initiative to facilitate Lebanese Presidential elections, pointing an accusing finger at forces "outside" Lebanon, in an apparent reference to Syria and Iran.

Kouchner, talking to reporters after meeting parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, said: "I want to know who is hampering and who is responsible for this. France will announce to the whole world" the side that is responsible for this situation.

"Judging by my experience, some of the parties should shoulder their responsibility, all the parties should shoulder their responsibilities, including (parties) outside the country," he added.

In answering a question as to whether Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun is hampering efforts to reach consensus on a presidential candidate, Kouchner said: I don't think that he, alone, is responsible." "The party that is responsible for hampering a mechanism that had been agreed by all sides will be responsible for destabilizing Lebanon and its regional repercussions," Kouchner added.
The "mechanism" is an initiative by the French which includes an agreement by all sides that Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir would compile a list of candidates for president and that the choice would be made from that list. The list includes both pro-government and opposition candidates including Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun whose desire for the office led him to eschew his pro-government Christian allies and join the Hezb'allah led opposition.

The government is absolutely determined to hold the vote on Wednesday - even if a consensus candidate has not been agreed upon. The Lebanese constitution requires that the President be elected by a 2/3 majority in Parliament. However, if that can't be achieved, a simple majority in later votes will suffice.

The opposition does not recognize the simple majority rule and has hinted that if the government goes ahead with plans to elect a president using that formula, they will set up their own government in opposition.

Many observers believe this could very well lead to a civil war.

Kouchner is banking on the fact that the pressure of a deadline will force the opposition to confront that stark reality. But it is unclear whether this is a state of affairs that Hezb'allah and their Syrian allies actually desire. Hezb'allah's well armed, highly trained militia would almost certainly achieve a quick victory in any armed conflict with the government - especially since it is assumed that the Lebanese army (no match for Hezb'allah anyway) would stay on the sidelines as they did during 15 year civil war that ended in 1990.

Kouchner's threat to expose the opposition's intrasigence may not even matter in the long run if that is the case.
Even with French Foriegn Minister Bernard Kouchner shuttling between the pro-government and opposition sides, trying to find some formula that would allow a consensus candidate for president to be elected later this week, it appears that all of his efforts are going for naught.

Kouchner is about ready to start naming names of those who are standing in the way of a deal:



French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner threatened Monday to expose the parties that are hampering a Paris initiative to facilitate Lebanese Presidential elections, pointing an accusing finger at forces "outside" Lebanon, in an apparent reference to Syria and Iran.

Kouchner, talking to reporters after meeting parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, said: "I want to know who is hampering and who is responsible for this. France will announce to the whole world" the side that is responsible for this situation.

"Judging by my experience, some of the parties should shoulder their responsibility, all the parties should shoulder their responsibilities, including (parties) outside the country," he added.

In answering a question as to whether Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun is hampering efforts to reach consensus on a presidential candidate, Kouchner said: I don't think that he, alone, is responsible." "The party that is responsible for hampering a mechanism that had been agreed by all sides will be responsible for destabilizing Lebanon and its regional repercussions," Kouchner added.
The "mechanism" is an initiative by the French which includes an agreement by all sides that Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir would compile a list of candidates for president and that the choice would be made from that list. The list includes both pro-government and opposition candidates including Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun whose desire for the office led him to eschew his pro-government Christian allies and join the Hezb'allah led opposition.

The government is absolutely determined to hold the vote on Wednesday - even if a consensus candidate has not been agreed upon. The Lebanese constitution requires that the President be elected by a 2/3 majority in Parliament. However, if that can't be achieved, a simple majority in later votes will suffice.

The opposition does not recognize the simple majority rule and has hinted that if the government goes ahead with plans to elect a president using that formula, they will set up their own government in opposition.

Many observers believe this could very well lead to a civil war.

Kouchner is banking on the fact that the pressure of a deadline will force the opposition to confront that stark reality. But it is unclear whether this is a state of affairs that Hezb'allah and their Syrian allies actually desire. Hezb'allah's well armed, highly trained militia would almost certainly achieve a quick victory in any armed conflict with the government - especially since it is assumed that the Lebanese army (no match for Hezb'allah anyway) would stay on the sidelines as they did during 15 year civil war that ended in 1990.

Kouchner's threat to expose the opposition's intrasigence may not even matter in the long run if that is the case.