Lebanese Presidential Consensus candidate on the horizon?

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Lebanese Presidential Consensus candidate on the horizon?
Oct. 25, 2014 /Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star/

International powers have reportedly redoubled efforts to exert pressure on regional capitals that hold the key to resolving the presidential crisis. Diplomatic sources said the Vatican and some Western capitals, particularly Paris and Washington, were alarmed by the security incidents taking place along Lebanon’s northern, eastern and southern borders, as well as warnings by the international community that the continued participation of some Lebanese factions, including Hezbollah, in the war in Syria was undermining the country’s stability.

Foreign officials have decided that the top post in Lebanon should be filled, so that the state can take responsibility for the threats facing Lebanon and grant political cover to the Army as it battles extremist groups. Evidence of the seriousness of the situation can be seen in the amount of Western military aid being delivered to Lebanon’s security forces and Army, in addition to the Iranian aid which is awaiting approval by Lebanon’s Cabinet. The diplomatic sources said that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was preparing to implement his road map to pave the way for a presidential election, especially after coming to an agreement with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Rome on the issue. As soon as the extension of Parliament’s mandate is approved, Hariri will begin with the next phase of his plan, which calls for both March 14 and March 8 to begin naming their consensus candidates and head to Parliament to elect one of them. Meanwhile, visitors of Speaker Nabih Berri quoted him as saying that there would be “nothing new” in the presidential deadlock as long as the Saudi-Iranian relationship was in crisis.

But they noted that the speaker seemed to expect a change on this front that might lead to the election of a consensus president who was neither from the March 8 nor from the March 14 coalitions. The sources said the March 14 initiative on presidential polls, which voiced the group’s readiness to elect a consensus candidate, was not different from Berri’s view.  According to prominent sources, the most promising consensus candidate at this time is former Minister Jean Obeid, who has the support of Berri, Hariri and MP Walid Jumblatt. The sources said Christian objection can be addressed easily. They said Syria could convince its ally MP Sleiman Frangieh to back down if Obeid manages to garner regional and international support, while Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea reportedly discussed this issue with Saudi officials in his recent visit to the kingdom. The greatest remaining obstacle is Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.

Will Hezbollah continue to support him if a more suitable consensus candidate emerges, and can the party convince him to step aside? Apparently, talks have begun with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to convince his father-in-law to relinquish his Baabda Palace dreams. In this context, The Daily Star has learned that a Western ambassador recently sent a report to his country stressing the need for intervention to speed up the course of the presidential election and revitalize the role of Lebanon’s Constitutional institutions. This is crucial not only for facing the present security threats but also for receiving the promised aid.