Lebanon still without president after one year

Country has been without a president for one year.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sun 24 May 2015, 11:40 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:17 PM

Beirut — Every few weeks for the past year, Lebanon’s parliament has met, exchanged pleasantries, and made the same announcement: that it has again been unable to elect a president.

Pluralistic but divided Lebanon has now been without a head of state for 12 months, the longest time the post has been vacant since the devastating civil war ended in 1990.

But analysts say that regional conflicts, particularly the raging war in neighbouring Syria, make a presidential election in Lebanon unlikely in the near future.

“As long as the region is in constant turmoil, as we are experiencing now... Lebanon will have a difficult time agreeing on a president,” said Imad Salamey, professor of political science at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

Sahar Atrash, analyst at the International Crisis Group, told that Lebanon, which is influenced heavily by regional powerhouses Iran and Saudi Arabia, “is not a priority” for now.

“Today, the regional sponsors are waging direct wars and proxy wars, and the regional issues are much bigger than meeting to elect a president for Lebanon,” she said.

Since Michel Sleiman’s term in office ended on May 25, 2014, parliament — which is responsible for electing the president — has failed 23 times to meet the two-thirds quorum required to hold an electoral session.

Since independence, Lebanon’s leadership posts have been distributed among its largest religious sects: Sunni, Shia and Christians, for whom the presidency is reserved.

With the onset of the Syrian regime’s tutelage over Lebanon in 1990, the head of state — whose powers had largely been weakened — was elected with specific orders from Damascus. Today, the country’s political class is split into two coalitions: March 8, which includes the powerful movement Hezbollah and supports the Syrian regime, and March 14, led by former premier Saad Hariri and bolstered by the West and Saudi Arabia.

The Christians — who make up 35 per cent of Lebanon’s population — are divided evenly among the two groupings.

Since the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, Lebanon’s fractious political parties have been unable to organise regular and independent presidential elections.

In 2008, a seven-month presidential vacancy ended only after Qatar’s intervention, which led the bickering parties to belatedly agree on Sleiman as head of state.

Analysts say increasing regional tensions make a similar arrangement unlikely today, however.

“Having a regional struggle that is sectarian-oriented does not help Lebanon reach a consensus among its three sectarian groups,” Salamey said. As conflicts between political rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran play themselves out in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, Lebanon’s political class sits and waits, Atrash said.

Syria’s war is the most divisive for Lebanon, which hosts more than one million Syrian refugees and regularly faces spillover violence from across the border.

That conflict has deepened sectarian faultlines between Lebanon’s Sunnis and Shias, “strengthening ties between sectarian groups and their sponsor states — the Sunnis with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and the Shias with Iran,” Salamey said.

He believes that the only way to overcome the presidential impasse is “as part of a regional solution, particularly in Syria”. —AFP



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