On Tuesday March 25, Lebanon's parliament was convened with one item on its agenda: the election of a new president before President Michel Suleiman’s term ends on May 25.
Lawmakers need to secure the necessary quorum to elect a new president. Depending on who you speak to a quorum constitutes two thirds of the Council of Representatives' 128 members or a majority (50 percent plus one). According to the constitution, parliament must be convened at any time between the last 60 to 30 days of the president’s term to vote in a successor. If it fails to do so, parliament will automatically be considered in session in the 10 days before the presidential mandate ends, in which time a new president must be elected.
All of this is in principle. In practice, however, successive Lebanese parliaments have failed to elect a president on time, save for the election of Emile Lahoud in 1998, and the extension of the terms of Elias Hrawi and Lahoud in 1995 and 2004, respectively. The three timely election sessions took place under Syrian occupation when Damascus could twist enough arms to get its man elected or his term extended on time.
But after the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, the Lebanese resumed their habit of endless bickering and bargaining whenever presidential elections draw near. In November 2007, Lahoud left the presidential palace without a successor to replace him. It then took Lebanon six months of living without a president and a mini-civil war that broke out on May 7, 2008, before the warring parties agreed to elect Suleiman as a “consensus president,” under international pressure, and after holding a conference in Doha for national reconciliation.
This time no one knows how long it will take before an agreement can be reached between Lebanon’s main parties: the Shi'ites of Hezbollah and Amal, the Sunnis under former Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, the Christians under candidate Michel Aoun and those under his arch rival candidate Samir Geagea, and the Druze under Walid Jumblatt.
Judging by recent experience, it took Prime Minister Tammam Salam close to a year to form his cabinet that saw the participation of all the above parties, save for Geagea's group, the Lebanese Forces. Yet despite the lengthy and at times stalling negotiations, the breakthrough that resulted in the cabinet's formation suggests that Lebanon is currently under a good spell, which could extend to the presidential election.
But while a cabinet can be brought down, a president is practically unaccountable to any party that elects him. This means that every one of the parties vet their candidates carefully. And even though, by constitution, the president should be a Christian Maronite, all parties have a say in his election.
The potential candidates have been running for at least two decades. Aoun, Geagea, lawmakers Butros Harb and Robert Ghanem, and former lawmaker Jean Obeid are all hopefuls. Politicking is rife, and at such an early stage, it looks impossible to come up with any reliable forecast for Lebanon’s next president.
All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine.