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Asharq Al-Awsat
Asharq Al-Awsat
Beirut - Nazeer Rida

Lebanese Officials Begin Mulling Names of Presidential Candidates

This aerial view shows activists and relatives of the 2020 Beirut port blast victims spreading a giant national flag, as they march in the Lebanese capital's port area on August 4, 2022, on the day that crisis-hit country marks two years since a giant explosion ripped through the capital. (AFP)

Lebanese political blocs have kicked off “cautious” efforts to discuss potential presidential candidates to succeed Michel Aoun, whose term ends in around 80 days.

In general terms, the president is expected to be “open” to all parties and blocs, enjoy “internal political consensus”, and be able to address the international community and put Lebanon “on the right track to recovery”.

The presidential election needs the attendance of two thirds of the 128-member parliament to meet the desired quorum. A candidate is declared a winner after reaping over two thirds of votes in the first round.

This usually demands agreements between various political blocs, rivals and allies alike. Discussions to reach such agreements started about a month ago.

MPs of the civilian protest movement for change have in recent weeks discussed the characteristics of potential candidates without delving into names, said sources monitoring the discussions.

Some of the 13 Change lawmakers are in contact with opposition political forces and others to garner their views and attempt to reach possible understandings over the elections, the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Change MPs are in agreement with traditional political forces over some issues and disagreement over others, namely that the president must not be a partisan or military figure.

The latter position clashes with the Lebanese Forces that supports the nomination of army commander Joseph Aoun if consensus is reached over him.

Some Change MPs agree with the LF, Kataeb and Progressive Socialist Party over a candidate who is “sovereign” - meaning a figure not affiliated with Iran - and supports the independence of the judiciary, which they view as the foundation of any state seeking transparency and accountability and that wants to combat corruption.

They are also aspiring for a president who would approve the financial and economic recovery plan.

The Change MPs have stressed their openness to all non-partisan figures.

Change MP Ibrahim Mneimneh told Asharq Al-Awsat that the discussions have not been completed yet.

He said he wants the election of a president who will pursue reform and has a political and economic vision that “gives hope to the people.”

The president must be a centrist who is not affiliated with any of the regional powers, he added.

“He must be solely loyal to Lebanon,” he underlined. He must also enjoy international relations and be accepted by the international community so that he can mend Lebanon’s ties with Arab and friendly nations that have been damaged in recent years.

On the reluctance to nominate a military figure, Mneimneh explained that the Change MPs prefer for the military to be separated from politics.

“We prefer for the president to be a civilian,” he remarked.

“We are hoping to be united in nominating a president,” he said in wake of the division that emerged among the Change MPs in naming a prime minister in recent months.

As the debate over the presidential nominations gains steam among the LF, Kataeb and other blocs, Hezbollah has notably remained silent.

The Iran-backed party has yet to throw its support behind a candidate in spite of its alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement, which is headed by MP Gebran Bassil and whose founder is President Aoun, and close ties with head of the Marada movement, Suleiman Franjieh, a potential candidate.

The traditional parties each seemingly have their own characteristics of what a candidate should be like.

The LF believes its leader Samir Geagea to be a shoe-in for president and does not want a candidate from the March 8 camp to be elected.

The Marada movement believes a candidate must be a consensual figure. The Shiite Amal movement, of parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, believes the president must respect Islamic, Christian and national views. This position is in line with former prime minister Fuad Siniora, who believes that the presidential elections is not a strictly Christian affair.

The FPM, meanwhile, believes that the president must enjoy popular representation, reflecting “the political national will expressed by the people in the parliamentary elections.”

“What’s the point of democracy, elections and political work if the concept of respecting popular representation is ignored?” says the movement.

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