Lebanon’s electoral impasse

January 13, 2008 - 0:0

The Lebanese presidential election which was scheduled to be held last week was postponed for the twelfth time, indicating that the chasm between the country’s political groups is still wide.

Although the Arab League’s three-point plan is considered the only solution to the current crisis in Lebanon, it will actually provide an opportunity for the opposing parties to continue their confrontation.
Foreign ministers of Arab League member states adopted a plan in their recent meeting in Cairo which proposed that Lebanese army chief General Michel Suleiman should be elected as the country’s president.
The second point of the plan suggests the establishment of a national unity government in which the ruling March 14 group would receive almost half of the cabinet seats.
The plan sets aside one third of the seats in the cabinet for the opposition March 8 group led by Michel Aoun, and the rest of the ministers are to be independents.
The third point of the Arab League plan emphasizes the need to revise the electoral law of Lebanon’s constitution so that the country will not face problems in future presidential elections.
Although the March 14 group, which is led by Al-Mustaqbal faction leader Saad Hariri, and the March 8 group, which consists of a number of Maronite Christian figures and factions plus Hezbollah and Amal, have basically agreed that Suleiman should be the next president, the issue of establishing a national unity government is still being disputed.
The government envisioned in the plan has certain ambiguities which are preventing the March 14 and March 8 groups from reaching a consensus.
Although the meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo succeeded in bringing the stances of Saudi Arabia and Syria closer together, it seems that Saudi Arabia’s ability to argue the March 14 group’s case in the Lebanese election impasse has been reduced.
Syria wants the election crisis to be resolved in a way that would constrain the March 14 group’s room for political maneuvering, but Saudi Arabia is seeking an outcome in which the March 8 group’s influence would be reduced after the election.
The consensus of Syria and Saudi Arabia on the need to elect Suleiman, which was reached through the efforts of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, is in fact a step forward but will not bring an end to the crisis.
Moussa went to Beirut to personally supervise implementation of the plan and talk to Lebanese leaders, but went home empty-handed and will definitely face difficulties in the future because there is no other venue which can help implement the plan.
Now it appears that the crisis over electing Suleiman as president is coming to an end, but the issue of the cabinet’s configuration still remains a major challenge facing all political groups in Lebanon.
The problem should be solved in such a way that the March 14 group will not be able to use its influence on the cabinet to prevent other Lebanese political groups from presenting national plans.
If a solution to the problem of the composition of the cabinet is not found before the presidential election, then Lebanon will definitely have no administration for a long time, and this is apparently what the March 14 group wants.
Endless wrangling about the cabinet’s makeup will only intensify the problem of the political vacuum in Lebanon. To solve the crisis, a cabinet must be formed that is not biased in favor of either side and is only concerned about the country’s national interests.