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Lebanon may slide into civil war

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Maria Appakova) - Lebanese presidential elections have been rescheduled once again, this time moved from November 12 to the 21, which will give Lebanese politicians time to come to terms.

It is their last chance though because President Emile Lahoud's term in office ends on November 24. However, it will not be easy to find a candidate who would suit all the parties.

Theoretically, the new head of state's job should be to consolidate the nation and lift the country out of the chaos. However, in the current situation the elections may yield a reverse effect and prod the country further into a political crisis and on to a civil war.

It is clear that there is no politician on the Lebanese political stage who could equally suit the opposition and the parliamentary majority. The discussions on the issue, which have gone on for several months, have failed. Finally, representatives of the two political groups went to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and asked him and other community leaders to nominate several presidential candidates on whom the parliamentary parties could compromise.

According to the Lebanese constitution, the president is elected by parliament from the Maronite community (a branch of Christianity). But today, even the Lebanese Christians have split into two irreconcilable parties, like the rest of the country. If they do not reach an accord, a vote in parliament will be pointless.

If the vote does take place, Lebanon will end up torn apart by civil war. The problem is that the constitutional clauses defining the presidential election procedure can be loosely interpreted by each of the sides to best suit their purposes. The opposition argues that a two-thirds quorum should be present to confirm a legitimate win of one of the candidates. The ruling coalition, March 14, which holds 68 out of the 127 parliament mandates, is convinced that a simple majority would do. If the coalition chooses this scheme, Lebanon might end up with two presidents and two governments, even if it violates constitutional procedure. The country's history has seen precedents.

The international community, especially the countries with strong ties to Lebanon, will not be satisfied with such developments any more than the Lebanese people. The ruling coalition leans heavily on the Western support (primarily the United States and France), while the Hezbollah-led opposition is backed by Syria and Iran. External interference is playing a dual role, aggravating the situation but at the same time adding a restraining factor, paradoxical as it might seem. Without a go-ahead from Washington, the ruling majority will hardly venture to resort to extreme measures, that is, will not dare elect a president without the opposition's consent.

Lebanon has once again found itself in a situation where its future is decided abroad. Even the plan to ask the Maronite patriarch to nominate candidates was not heaven-sent, but devised in Damascus, intermediated by Paris. Arab media suggests that was the reason for the ever more frequent visits of French envoys to the region. The Lebanese politicians were never left alone in their desperate search for compromise. Syria and the United States also actively participated in the process. But have they found anything? Will the Christian patriarch succeed where politicians failed? And, more importantly, will the candidates he nominates really suit the opposition, the ruling coalition, Damascus and Washington?

Hardly. On the other hand, the fact that the two conflicting parties at least agreed on asking the patriarch to be an arbitrator in their dispute is encouraging. Moreover, the leaders of Christian parties seem ready to give up their own political ambitions.

General Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement has made it clear that he did not have to be the only presidential hopeful. "We are not saying it should be us, and us only. On the contrary, we support a consensus on a candidate," he said. "We are not trying to cross anyone out, but we won't have anyone crossing out us."

The leaders of the ruling coalition and the opposition have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to search for a compromise over the past few months. What is new about General Aoun's statement was that he mentioned the possibility of someone else besides himself elected president. Prior to that, he incessantly talked about his own ambition to become president. Still, he might change his mind on second thought. Washington, too, can change plans. If the Patriarch Plan fails, it may give the ruling coalition carte-blanche.

It follows that any twist of the developments is possible in Lebanon today, but a destructive scenario still seems more probable. The Lebanese will need a miracle, or a divine disposal to avoid it. The patriarch's prayers might be more effective than his search for a right candidate today.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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