An opposition political source recently met with Patrick Durel, the diplomatic advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron.
According to the source, the battle of Christians and Change MPs is between electing candidate Sleiman Frangieh or continuing to wait for Frangieh’s supporters to enter into a dialogue about a presidential candidate acceptable to all Lebanese.
However, the source pointed out that “Hezbollah” is unprepared to back down from nominating Sleiman Frangieh. The party produced the equation of “Hezbollah makes the president” by supporting the election of former President Michel Aoun. Any retreat from that would mean losing its position as the president’s maker in Lebanon and then imposing Aoun’s election after two and a half years of obstruction and opposition by several parties who changed their stance under international pressure.
The source considered that preventing the election of Frangieh would have repercussions internally, noting that this would mean that Hezbollah is no longer capable of attracting allies from other parties as it did to elect Aoun.
Without delving into the supporting or abstaining states, the source pointed out that there is currently no regional international pressure to prevent the arrival of a “Hezbollah” candidate. The insiders are responsible for preventing Hezbollah from regaining control of the presidency. This means draining the energies that can build the state, which is the primary opposition to structural reforms and the rescue plan prepared by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“We (the opposition) are not against Sleiman Frangieh, but against his political choices and alliance with Hezbollah. We will work and unite to prevent this because the country cannot continue with the policy imposed by Hezbollah on Lebanon, which has lost its sovereignty and independence, and has become a hub for smuggling and money laundering,” the source stated.
Moreover, the source informed Durel that “Paris cannot support the continuation of Hezbollah’s dominance over Lebanese decision-making, and extending this period is very dangerous because it is equivalent to suicide for the country. The harm that will result from extending Hezbollah’s policy for six years will lead to a failure to carry out reforms and will hinder the possibility of consensus among Lebanese. It should also be noted that there is a majority that refuses to live within the “Hezbollah Republic,” as its dominance has produced two republics: the disabled Lebanese Republic and the “Hezbollah Republic” that imposes its policies on the parties.”
Nevertheless, the opposition source believed that there is no solution currently under the equation that elects Frangieh as president and Nawaf Salam as Prime Minister since the president is elected for six years, while the Prime Minister, even if he is close to the Change MPs, can be dismissed within weeks or months. This happened with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who was forced to resign despite all the guarantees offered to him to support the election of Michel Aoun.
Thus, the source considered this barter unfair because the Resistance team gets the presidency and the parliament speaker. In contrast, the opposition team gets an unstable government whose fate is linked to a third party that can paralyze and dismiss its work.
In addition, the source emphasized that it is an insult to the Christian side to have a president who is affiliated with Hezbollah and not independent. Hezbollah cannot provide guarantees because it breaches them, as it did when it agreed to the dissociation policy, which was at the center of the Baabda agreement on its first occasion when it participated in the fighting in Syria.
Furthermore, the source also indicated that discussions between Christian factions and Change MPs are ongoing to prevent this impasse. There is hope that a political transformation can occur that will redress the balance of power, prevent a quorum from freezing the elections, and have enough time for solutions and consensus-building among several candidates agreed upon who can commit to reform strategies for the country’s recovery.
The source stressed that there are no predetermined solutions but negotiations with all parties, including Hezbollah, which are necessary to create a reform plan to achieve the desired results. The plan must be open to local and international sides. The sources also considered that Frangieh’s withdrawal from the presidency could be the beginning of the solution, followed by a selection from several candidates for the new president through a direct election in the Parliament.
Still, the source reiterated that the primary goal at this stage is to prevent Frangieh from achieving that goal and retreating since there is no “plan B” for international forces as they refuse negotiations with other candidates. Hezbollah refuses to negotiate with others and has insisted on its candidate. However, the process of securing the necessary one-third blocking minority for any election session is a delicate operation, as it cannot be guaranteed that all MPs will vote and not submit to Frangieh’s candidacy. Such an outcome would result in the collapse of Lebanon.
Regarding Saudi Arabia’s stance, the source highlighted that the kingdom has new priorities that focus on protecting the country’s international and regional interests, building its economy, and preserving its foreign policy goals. Saudi Arabia still supports Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence and a president who can enact reforms and restore the desired state.
However, given the regional and international uncertainties, the kingdom is reluctant to implement a radical policy in Lebanon that would jeopardize the country’s economic recovery and its emerging position on the regional map.
Meanwhile, Paris is working to find a possible solution Hezbollah would accept, as any other option would likely lead to further delay in the presidential elections.
With both sides at an impasse, can Lebanon overcome its crisis and elect a new president?
So far, the solution remains elusive, and international pressure on inner sides to prevent a presidential vacuum is the only means of accelerating the electoral process.