Beirut: The Progressive Socialist Party presidential candidate, deputy Henri Helou, provided the first of the weekend’s entertainment fixtures when he told the Kuwaiti daily Al Siyassah that he was “not Walid Junblatt’s candidate, or a Trojan horse, as certain [writers] in the press have circulated.”
Helou emphasised that the first round of Lebanon’s ongoing presidential elections last Wednesday was “democratic” and “Lebanese” without defining the meanings for either, oblivious to the point that he was not a candidate to the post 24 hours before the first ballot was cast and, even more egregious, unconscious that it was Junblatt who announced his standing not the aspirant.
Equally amusing was Junblatt’s Saturday pleas for Sa’ad Hariri, the Future Movement leader in exile on account of specific death threats, to return to the country as soon as possible to “head an all-embracing cabinet to avert further tension and crises.” This gem, reported in the pro-Hezbollah Al Safir daily, was peppered with the assurance that “there were no excuses that could justify his absence,” dismissing well-established security challenges that resulted in the periodic assassination of March 14 leaders. Junblatt said nothing of the murder of a close Hariri aide and one of Lebanon’s brightest economists, Mohammad Shatah, who was killed on December 27, 2013.
Even if the Druze chieftain held the presidential elections keys in his hands — on account of his party’s swing votes between March 8 and 14 coalitions — many wondered whether any common ground could be found among rival parties over the very identity of the next head of state.
In the single balloting to date, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea secured 48 out of 128 votes, while Helou gathered 16 and former President and Phalange leader Amin Gemayel obtained a single vote.
A complement of 52 deputies cast blank votes while 7 revived dead Lebanese personalities and 4 were no shows.
Geagea stressed on Thursday that he would remain in the race “until the end,” emphasising that he would carry on with his nomination regardless of what other candidates contemplated, including what General Michel Aoun wished to do.
During a widely watched television interview on the LBCI network on Thursday evening that lasted over three hours, Geagea addressed Junblatt specifically, when he declared: “I tell Walid Bayk [a feudal honorific for a local Lord] that he played a central role in Lebanon between 2005 and 2010 and all his struggle was for the sake of reaching a strong state.” He continued: “I have nominated myself to continue the project that he wants. The Druze, the Christians and all Lebanese have no alternative other than a strong state that belongs to everyone” and, looking straight into the camera, concluded: “I advise him to seek this solution through his vote.”
Remarkably, Junblatt was among those who anticipated lack of a quorum next Wednesday, which necessitated the physical presence in parliament of at least 86 deputies.
In the absence of a prior deal that clearly identified the next president, most observers believed that Beirut would face a void on May 25, given that sharp disagreements remained on the very nature of the State, and who should succeed President Michel Sulaiman.
Under the circumstances, the government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam was poised to assume presidential functions until such time when regional and international agreements could be reached to appoint a new Baabda Palace resident.
Beirut opened a new chapter in its ongoing post-civil war saga that required agreements among political arch-foes even if no one foresaw a regional powwow that emulated the 2008 Doha Conference. Interestingly, while Geagea ruled out a short-term accord with General Aoun, he signaled that he was “willing to engage in a dialogue with Hezbollah,” though he stressed that such a discourse ought to occur “in the form of an official meeting between the president, the ministers of defense and interior, and Hezbollah officials.” It was a remarkable vision even if nearly impossible to fathom for the time being.