Efforts underway to keep election on schedule

President Michel Sleiman speaks during an interview with The Daily Star at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Wednesday, March 14, 2012.

Starting Tuesday, the spotlight will shift to the country’s newest concern, the presidential election, amid expectations that the two-month period for the process will expire without any agreement on a candidate to succeed President Michel Sleiman.

According to diplomatic sources, the international community has been keeping their eyes on developments related to the presidential election since the government was formed, partly in order to achieve their quest for a consensus, in view of the serious consequences of the government’s failure to run the country and face political, economic and security challenges.

There appears to be an understanding that this government is working to give the presidential file the same importance as its own formation by working on several points.

First, it is striving to hold the presidential election by its constitutional deadline – May 25 – and according to the principles of democracy, with all members of Parliament attending the relevant sessions.

Second, it is warning against a presidential vacuum in light of the importance of filling this traditionally Christian seat of power in order to stabilize the political and sectarian balance in Lebanon. This is particularly important in view of Sunni-Shiite discord in the country and across the region, as undermining the electoral process would risk the spread of further chaos.

Western countries are completely against any foreign intervention in the file this time, something manifested on the ground by key powers informing a group of active ambassadors in Lebanon to remain on the sidelines and urge Lebanese people to choose their own fate in the election.

The West does not intend to back anyone and, according to reports, simply wants a candidate who applies the Lebanese Constitution and maintains the country’s sovereignty.

It is rejecting any kind of outside intervention that would support one candidate at the expense of another.

According to diplomatic sources, Saudi Arabia will continue to grant Prince Bandar bin Sultan the responsibility for the Lebanese file, with reports of him stepping down to be replaced by Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad bin Nayef completely unfounded.

Powers in Lebanon agree with the West’s desire for a successful presidential election, as fears of a lack of quorum begin to emerge. However, political sources have said Hezbollah desires to maintain the status quo following the end of Sleiman’s presidential term, with the current government taking over presidential powers. This would comfort the party because it would then be able to continue fighting in Syria.

According to information made available to The Daily Star, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai is contacting Christian figures to try to reach a consensus and organize a meeting in Bkirki to discuss the presidential election. Despite previous failures on this front, Rai is set to continue trying on orders from the Vatican.

Sources close to Bkirki said: “What Patriarch Rai is doing is expressing his fixed stance so it will lead to a unifying role, and it is not the first time that Rai has called on Christian leaders to meet at the patriarchal seat, or provided space for a common dialogue.

“The meeting being discussed flies in the face of what is being said about it being aimed at supporting some candidates and excluding others, because the patriarch clings to the principle of being a father to all.”

By Antoine Ghattas Saab, The Daily Star

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