Sanctions loom over obstruction of Lebanese presidential elections

Press Highlights
2023-05-13 | 02:10
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Sanctions loom over obstruction of Lebanese presidential elections
Sanctions loom over obstruction of Lebanese presidential elections

In the past two weeks, Saudi Ambassador Walid Al-Bukhari withheld the roles of the 'godmothers' of the presidential file, the US ambassador, Dorothy Shea, and the French ambassador, Anne Grillo.

This article was originally published in, translated from the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.
Just like the two ambassadors in previous months, whether they acted or remained silent, Bukhari has also become a part of this. If he kept quiet, his silence was viewed with suspicion and interpreted in various ways.

Similarly, the same scenario unfolds if his government requests him or he returns to the country.

In recent days, the presidential elections have revolved around him. Sometimes he becomes an obstacle in conducting the election, while other times, he is seen as rushing it.

Speculations have increased surrounding his actions, whether he receives someone or refrains from meeting someone else, with interpretations ranging from positive to opposing political stances.

Bukhari inherited his role from Shea and Grillo without expecting anyone else to inherit their roles.

Ultimately, the Saudi ambassador currently stands alone or enjoys the support of the Americans, who are the actual makers of the next president, without endorsing or opposing any candidate.

Regarding Bukhari's recent meetings, before and after his Thursday meeting with the leader of the Marada Movement, Sleiman Frangieh, the following information was deduced:

1-     Bukhari is urging the election of a new president as soon as possible, or sanctions will be imposed on those responsible for obstructing the election. He did not disclose which countries would resort to sanctions, simply stating that they are international. The International Monetary Fund may also exert similar pressures. Additionally, Lebanese officials have received information indicating that IMF has decided to be the sole and mandatory conduit for anything entering Lebanon. It is also expected that the IMF tone will become more assertive starting from the beginning of next month in an unprecedented manner.

2-     Lebanese parties have two options: reaching a consensus on one presidential candidate, which is the better choice to avoid further divisions, or going to the Parliament with two competing candidates seeking the votes of MPs to win.

Bukhari stated that the Kingdom has no problem with the eventual winner as long as the election is constitutional and democratic. Regardless of the next president, he will not be an adversary or an enemy of the Kingdom. The Kingdom has no enemies or opponents in Lebanon, and it is open to all parties.
So it is a positive signal regarding Frangieh if he becomes president, advancing beyond what was previously said that the Kingdom had vetoed his election and prevented its allied deputies from voting for him.

After the meeting between the two men on Thursday and the ambassador's repeated confirmation that there is no Saudi veto on any candidate, the importance of his new position and its progression in a week since his visit to Bkerke on May 3rd became clear. It went from saying there is no veto on anyone to showing readiness to cooperate with the elected president, whoever he/ she may be.

3-     Lebanese should return to the Arab embrace by rebuilding their ties with the Arab world. Bukhari tackled the positives and the next phase by discussing ways Lebanon can cooperate with its neighbors like Iraq and Syria. He also praised the Shia community and anticipated that Lebanon would receive assistance for fulfilling its obligations. However, he also emphasized that the responsibility lies entirely with the Lebanese, and they should not delay action. He then revealed the extensive efforts being made to expedite the completion of these obligations within weeks. Based on his statements, it can be inferred that a session for electing the president could be held within two weeks at most.

4-      He repeatedly urged everyone who visits or meets with them to go to the Parliament and elect the president and to "avoid obstructing the quorum of the session."

5-     When asked if he sees Frangieh's alliance with Hezbollah as an obstacle, he answered, "There is no veto on anyone," before adding, "We have no problem about his relationship with Hezbollah. We are in dialogue with Iran, which is positive and ongoing."

Bukhari signals international sanctions for those obstructing presidential elections

In light of recent information, the possibility of a looming presidential election is being discussed more seriously than ever before.

The information indicates that various international pressures are being exerted on the Christian factions to agree on a candidate who can proceed to the election session. Several key developments contribute to this emerging scenario:

1 - Attention to conviction of opposition Christian blocs:

There are indications that opposition Christian blocs are considering the nomination of Frangieh and the necessity of overcoming their divisions by accepting a candidate they previously rejected. Insiders have noticed a slight retreat in the rigid opposition to Frangieh among Christian factions.

Previously, these factions had unanimously rejected attending the session of their sole candidate, the head of the Marada Movement. However, they now appear more inclined towards negotiating a candidate to confront Frangieh. This shift reflects the intensity of the pressures exerted on them.

2 - Potential collaboration between major Christian parties:

The information showed that the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces (LF) party might exchange their vetoes to push the ongoing dialogue toward a consensus candidate with the smaller Christian blocs.

The FPM has abandoned its veto on the Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, while the LF has withdrawn its veto on former minister Jihad Azour.

Azour's chances seem better than those of the Army Commander, given the latter's need for constitutional amendments that are not currently available within the limited remaining time. Furthermore, Speaker Berri has explicitly stated that there will be no return to what happened in 2008, subjecting the presidential election to Article 74 of the Constitution. Moreover, the Change MPs that oppose electing the LAF Commander threaten to challenge the constitutionality of his election outside the restrictions of Article 49.

3 - Difficulties in reaching a consensual election session:

Attaining a consensus-based presidential election session seems challenging. It necessitates Frangieh's withdrawal, which appears difficult and seemingly impossible at present, both for Frangieh himself and Hezbollah and Amal Movement. However, his chances, at least apparently, have improved after meeting with Bukhari on Thursday and lifting vetoes in all directions.

4 - Limited options and Azour as the closest competitor:

The possible choices to challenge Frangieh have been narrowed down to four names. However, Azour seems to be the closest to being adopted as a competitor to Frangieh in the second round of voting to win an absolute majority (at least 65 votes). Without an opposing candidate to Frangieh, the session would lead to his election if the international sanctions are indeed on their way into the country, as currently being pursued.

The cost of obstruction is expected to be steep in the twelfth session. As various factors converge, the possibility of a looming presidential election in Lebanon continues to grow, marking a critical juncture for the country's political landscape.

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