Although it has become common knowledge by now that neither of Lebanon’s two main candidates to the presidential election – Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea – is, at this point, capable of garnering an absolute majority of votes in Parliament to be elected as the new head of state, Aoun looks to be impermeable to finding alternatives to break the deadlock.
According to lawmakers from his Change and Reform bloc, Aoun still rejects any plan B regarding the presidency, or the discussion of other consensus names that could fill the top post. Aoun, according to his MPs, is still confident that Hezbollah will back his presidential bid until the last moment, even if “MPs within his bloc or those close to him abandon him.”
The lawmakers reveal that Aoun is well aware that his opponents, the March 14 alliance mainly, are seeking the help of the Vatican to convince him to end his bid. The Vatican is looking worriedly at Christian divisions in Lebanon and will be dispatching to Beirut this week its special envoy for Lebanon Cardinal Dominique Mambertito urge various Christian groups to find a consensus to solve the presidential impasse.
Free Patriotic Movement sources said Aoun’s son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil will meet high ranking officials in the Vatican Monday to brief them about Aoun’s point of view regarding the presidential election and the pressure being exerted to force him to leave the race.
The source said that as long as newly conducted statistics have proved that the majority of Christians still consider Aoun as the only suitable candidate to fill the post, which has been vacant since May 25, the 80-year-old will not quit.
According to the sources, Aoun will not remain silent in the face of campaigns against him because he rejects a settlement regarding the presidential election. Aoun is expected to make a key address on May 6, the anniversary of his return to Lebanon in 2005. Aoun, the sources said, will renew his commitment to safeguarding the rights of Christians in Lebanon and the need to make the voices of Christians in Lebanon and Christians in the region heard.
Aoun will also tackle the need to implement all the clauses of the 1989 Taif Accord, which put an end to Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War, or otherwise, start looking for other alternatives.
As for domestic issues such as the thorny issue of security appointments, the sources said that ministers affiliated with the FPM might suspend their participation in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Tammam Salam in the event Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk issues a decision to extend the term of the head of the police on May 20.
The sources claimed that Hezbollah’s ministers might follow suit, making it difficult for the premier to call for new Cabinet sessions.
A political impasse over the issue of extending the terms of top Lebanese security officials has stoked fears that the standoff could lead to the collapse of the government, after Aoun threatened to pull his ministers from the Cabinet if the mandate of security officers was extended.
Several military posts must soon be filled, including that of Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous, who is set to retire in June, and that of Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, whose term ends in September. Basbous retires on June 5 while Kahwagi retires on Sept. 23.
Finding a substitute for Kahwagi in particular is challenging for all political factions.
Aoun is pressing for his other son-in-law, Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz, head of the Army’s Commando Unit, to replace Kahwagi as Army commander.
Finding a replacement for Basbous, on the other hand, is mired in administrative difficulties: The Future Movement prefers ISF Information Branch chief Imad Othman, but there are a myriad of Sunni officers that some ministers might argue are more deserving of the post.