Joseph A. Kechichian: Franjieh becomes appealing choice for Lebanese president

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Franjieh becomes appealing choice for Lebanese president
By Joseph A. Kechichian/Gulf News/November 26, 2015

Beirut: A floating initiative to nominate Sulaiman Franjieh as a candidate for the presidency seems to be gaining traction in Lebanon. According to press reports, Future Movement leader Sa’ad Hariri, determined to end the presidential impasse that has plagued the country since May 2014, has held a series of meetings recently to push the initiative forward. Franjieh, a pro-Syrian MP in the Lebanese parliament, reportedly held a private meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Wednesday, just hours before the 11th National Dialogue session.

Observers believe the two discussed Franjieh’s recent rendezvous with Hariri in Paris. He also held separate meetings with Druze leader Walid Junblatt thePhalange Party’s Sami Gemayel. Unable to agree on a number of issues, political elites seem to have found a new urgency in pushing for agreement over the presidential vacancy.

This could be because of the double suicide bombing on November 12 in Burj Al Barajneh, which was claimed by Daesh and left over 40 people dead. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has also issued calls for a national settlement. Currently, there seems little hope for a breakthrough in the deadlock over the candidacy of March 8 movement’s Michel Aoun and March 14 movement’s Samir Geagea. Geagea is disillusioned with the March 14 coalition while Aoun is disappointed with Hezbollah. (He believes it could have elected him a long time ago if it wanted to do so).

Hariri could also be motivated by regional and international developments, such as the intensifying situation in Syria following Russia’s decision to intervene militarily and the most recent terrorist attacks in Egypt and France. Perhaps Hariri decided that the country could no longer afford to be led by a dysfunctional government that could not even agree on a plan to collect garbage and create necessary employment opportunities for its citizens. As the economy teeters on the brink of a precipice, Franjieh has become an attractive stopgap choice where a quorum could be achieved in parliament. Hariri and Junblatt might be able to influence their deputies to back Franjieh, although it is impossible to be sure. Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah, on the other hand, seem much less persuadable. On Wednesday, Franjieh insisted that the March 8 candidate was still Aoun, despite the fact that he enjoyed the backing of Washington and Riyadh.

 Franjieh is a close friend and ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad but few know whether he could be able to maintain a certain distance from Damascus if he were elected president. Franjieh was born on October 18, 1965 to Tony Franjieh, who was assassinated in the 1978 Ehden massacre, reportedly perpetrated by the Phalange Party. His grandfather, former president Sulaiman Franjieh (1970-1976), took the 12-year-old boy to Syria and entrusted him to the Al Assad family.

Over the years, Sulaiman remained beholden to the Al Assads, and seldom shied from publicly declaring his loyalty to his “brother”, Bashar Al Assad. In 1982, when he was barely 17, Sulaiman became the leader of the Marada Brigades, a militia that evolved into a political party after the 1989-1990 Taif Accords. The nascent leader entered Parliament for the first time on June 7, 1991 and was re-elected for three successive mandates in 1992, 1996 and 2000. He lost his seat in June 2005, though he served in various ministries. Franjieh regained his seat in June 2009, the last time parliamentary elections were held in Lebanon. Starting in August 2012, Franjieh opined that Al Assad would win the war in Syria and gave his full support to the Baath government, even if he backed the August 2012 Baabda Declaration that emphasised the country’s “positive neutrality”.
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