Lebanese Patriarch Issues his list of Candidates for President

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has been reluctant to embroil himself in the war of words going in the Christian community in Lebanon over who should be the next president. This is why the well-respected religious leader has not issued a list of appropriate candidates for the office, fearing to further split his already fractious flock.

That is, until yesterday:

The daily An Nahar on Tuesday said Sfeir "actually did write down a list of five or six candidates," that included opposition Gen. Michel Aoun as well as pro-government MPs Butros Hard and Nassib Lahoud.

It said Sfeir, who had always insisted on not wanting to be drawn into the naming game, has softened his stance after he was informed by visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that there is no way that parliament doors would open for elections without Bkiri issuing a list of presidents accepted by the feuding sides.

The daily said the French envoy also cautioned Sfeir that in the event his rejection continued regarding naming compromise candidates for president "he will be held responsible for failure of elections and for fear of a constitutional vacuum," warning him that "several parties would place the responsibility upon him."

An Nahar said Sfeir agreed to put forward a presidential list after Kouchner conveyed to him the stances from all the sides he met on Tuesday, which included MP Saad Hariri, Premier Fouad Saniora, Speaker Nabih Berri, former President Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, former cabinet minister Suleiman Franjieh, and Aoun.
The presidency, by agreement and tradition, is reserved for a Christian. But with one of the leading Christian politicians - Michel Aoun - backing the Hezb'allah led opposition, the choice of Chief Executive has become enormously complicated.

The politicians in the majority don't trust Aoun and the opposition is in no mood to compromise on seeing one of their candidates in the office. It is still unclear if Hezb'allah will use the impass as an excuse to set up their own government - a measure that would almost certainly precipitate fighting in the streets - while declaring the legitimately elected government of Prime Minister Siniora "illegal" as a result of a vote in Parliament for a candidate that would receive less than two thirds majority.

The Christian community in Lebanon is in ferment. They know that the new voting law that everyone agrees must be written will substantially lower their influence in government since the current parliamentary percentages allotted to them are based on a census that is horribly out of date. Where at one time Christians made up nearly 50% of the population, that number has dwindled to less than 40%. A diaspora of an estimated 800,000 Lebanese Christians left during the 1980's and 90's - many of them the best educated of their generation. Along with a growth spurt in the Shia and Sunni communities can only mean that Christian representation will only go down in any new power sharing arrangement.

And now, their shrinking community is split thanks to the political opportunism of Aoun who has hitched his star to Hezb'allah in hopes that it will bring him the presidency. It is extremely unlikely that the majority will agree to Aoun as president. They simply don't trust him. Ironically, his new found friends in Hezb'allah share that distrust to some extent. This is a general who became something of a hero in the late 1980's when, as Prime Minister, he went to war against Syria rather than give up his office to a Syrian toady. His about face by allying himself with Syria's friends only highlights the depths of his ambition.

Sfeir's list will now be argued over and discussed until the formal vote in Parliament on November 21. There is little hope a consensus candidate will emerge who could command 2/3 of the vote which means the government will ratify their choice by simple  majority.

What Hezb'allah does after that will tell whether there will be peace or war.
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has been reluctant to embroil himself in the war of words going in the Christian community in Lebanon over who should be the next president. This is why the well-respected religious leader has not issued a list of appropriate candidates for the office, fearing to further split his already fractious flock.

That is, until yesterday:

The daily An Nahar on Tuesday said Sfeir "actually did write down a list of five or six candidates," that included opposition Gen. Michel Aoun as well as pro-government MPs Butros Hard and Nassib Lahoud.

It said Sfeir, who had always insisted on not wanting to be drawn into the naming game, has softened his stance after he was informed by visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that there is no way that parliament doors would open for elections without Bkiri issuing a list of presidents accepted by the feuding sides.

The daily said the French envoy also cautioned Sfeir that in the event his rejection continued regarding naming compromise candidates for president "he will be held responsible for failure of elections and for fear of a constitutional vacuum," warning him that "several parties would place the responsibility upon him."

An Nahar said Sfeir agreed to put forward a presidential list after Kouchner conveyed to him the stances from all the sides he met on Tuesday, which included MP Saad Hariri, Premier Fouad Saniora, Speaker Nabih Berri, former President Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, former cabinet minister Suleiman Franjieh, and Aoun.
The presidency, by agreement and tradition, is reserved for a Christian. But with one of the leading Christian politicians - Michel Aoun - backing the Hezb'allah led opposition, the choice of Chief Executive has become enormously complicated.

The politicians in the majority don't trust Aoun and the opposition is in no mood to compromise on seeing one of their candidates in the office. It is still unclear if Hezb'allah will use the impass as an excuse to set up their own government - a measure that would almost certainly precipitate fighting in the streets - while declaring the legitimately elected government of Prime Minister Siniora "illegal" as a result of a vote in Parliament for a candidate that would receive less than two thirds majority.

The Christian community in Lebanon is in ferment. They know that the new voting law that everyone agrees must be written will substantially lower their influence in government since the current parliamentary percentages allotted to them are based on a census that is horribly out of date. Where at one time Christians made up nearly 50% of the population, that number has dwindled to less than 40%. A diaspora of an estimated 800,000 Lebanese Christians left during the 1980's and 90's - many of them the best educated of their generation. Along with a growth spurt in the Shia and Sunni communities can only mean that Christian representation will only go down in any new power sharing arrangement.

And now, their shrinking community is split thanks to the political opportunism of Aoun who has hitched his star to Hezb'allah in hopes that it will bring him the presidency. It is extremely unlikely that the majority will agree to Aoun as president. They simply don't trust him. Ironically, his new found friends in Hezb'allah share that distrust to some extent. This is a general who became something of a hero in the late 1980's when, as Prime Minister, he went to war against Syria rather than give up his office to a Syrian toady. His about face by allying himself with Syria's friends only highlights the depths of his ambition.

Sfeir's list will now be argued over and discussed until the formal vote in Parliament on November 21. There is little hope a consensus candidate will emerge who could command 2/3 of the vote which means the government will ratify their choice by simple  majority.

What Hezb'allah does after that will tell whether there will be peace or war.