Lebanon's Divided Christian Community Struggles to Achieve Consensus

According to the Lebanese Constitution, the office of President must go to a Maronite Christian, being elected by a super majority of a parlimentary vote.

But these days, the Christian community in Lebanon is divided between those parties loyal to the majority March 14th coalition and the Free Patriotic Movement headed by former anti-Syrian hero Michel Aoun who now, ironically, has joined the pro-Syrian opposition headed up by Hezb'allah.

Aoun wants to be president. March 14th opposes him. And herein lies the crisis that may very well lead to the kind of sectarian violence not seen since the end of the civil war in the late 1980's.

The Hezb'allah led opposition will not accept any candidate who is not sympathetic to Syria. March 14th has it in their power to go ahead and elect a President who would have Lebanon's best interests at heart. This is because if there is no super majority for one candidate in parliament after the first vote, the Constitution allows for a president to be elected by simple majority - something well within the grasp of the March 14th coalition.

Hezb'allah has already made it clear that such a turn of events would be unacceptable. Many observers believe that if March 14 elected their own candidate by simple majority, that Hezballah would set up their own "shadow government," proclaiming the elected government "unconstitutional" thus setting off a crisis several times greater than the cabinet crisis that still bedevils the country 10 months after it began. 

To head off such an eventuality, Christian Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has set up a committee that will seek to reach a consensus on which candidate the Christian community will put forward
for President:
The proposal was agreed in separate meetings between Sfeir and Maronite representatives of both factions on Thursday and Friday.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and former MP Suleiman Franjieh, both representing the Hizbullah-led opposition, met Sfeir at the latter's seat in Bkirki Thursday. The Patriarch met March 14 representative Friday.

The newspaper al-Hayat said Sfeir reiterated in both meetings his stand that the presidential election should be held within the constitutional schedule and in line with the constitution to avoid vacuum that could lead to serious repercussions. Sfeir, according to the report, also reminded Aoun and Franjieh of the Maronite Bishops' statement, issued last September, which stressed that boycotting the presidential election session is tantamount to "boycotting the homeland."

Aoun, the newspaper said, expressed readiness to negotiate with the majority. Franjieh backed Aoun's trend.

March 14 representatives, on their part, stressed to the Patriarch that electing a new head of state by simple majority was only the last option to avoid vacuum in the presidency and would be adopted only if the opposition rejected attempts to reach consensus on a presidential candidate. However,

March 14 representatives doubted Aoun's ability to reach consensus with the majority, the report said
Aoun is well and truly trapped by his comrades in the opposition. Many Christians, even in his own party, are resentful that he has allowed his ambition to be President to so divide the Christian community. That ambition led Aoun to ally his party with Hezb'allah in the first place after March 14 informed him that he would not be their first choice for the office because they believe him to be too sectarian in his politics. Aoun's deal with the Hezb'allah devil has complicated an already dangerous situation by giving a legitimacy to the opposition - which is made up largely of Shia parties - that it wouldn't have had otherwise.

Can the Christians unite and find and consensus candidate? Several prominent names have been mentioned but to some observers, it seems an exercise in futility. Hezb'allah's refusal to resolve the cabinet crisis despite many good faith efforts to do so shows that the terrorist political party has a different agenda than peace and stability. They are deliberately fomenting both the cabinet crisis and the presidential succession crisis in what can only be considered an effort to
destroy the government:

Progressive Socialist Party Leader Walid Jumblat warned that Hizbullah wants to seize power in Lebanon, describing the party as a chapter of Iran's revolutionary Guards Corps which is working on setting up a Farsi area of influence stretching from Iran to Lebanon via Iraq and Syria.

In an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Anbaa, jumblat also sounded the alarm that "if Lebanon fell to the Persians (Iranians) the (Arab) Gulf states would face a mounting threat."...

Asked whether March 14 majority legislators would elect a new head of state at Beirut's seaside Phoenicia Hotel, Jumblat said: "We have the right to elect a president anywhere. A president should be elected. We have information that Iran might allow Hizbullah to overrun the Government compound and occupy Beirut."
The canny old Druze warlord Jumblatt is no alarmist. And if no candidate can be agreed upon through the efforts of the Patriarch, anything at all is possible.
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