Beirut: Observers of Lebanese politics believe classic pro-Syrian March 8 and anti-Syrian March 14 groups are no longer relevant following the political fallout surrounding Sa’ad Hariri’s recent decision to back Michel Aoun for president.
No one knows what the next parliament session, scheduled for October 31, will hold and who will back who.
But one clear effect of Hariri’s shock decision are growing divisions within both alliances. Splits have already emerged between members of the March 14 alliance with some members supporting Hariri’s decision and others staunchly rejecting it.
The same goes for March 8, an alliance made up of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and two principal Shiite parties, Amal and Hezbollah, with the latter fighting side by side with Bashar Al Assad’s forces in Syria.
Hariri, a former prime minister, announced on Thursday that he was ready to back Aoun by default because his first two candidates for the office of president could not be elected.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Shiite Amal Party are on record for opposing Aoun, while several independent deputies declared that they would cast blank votes.
Druze leader Walid Junblatt, whose Progressive Socialist Party is part of the March 14 alliance, said he “understood” Berri’s reservation on the way in which Aoun’s name was put forward.
Hezbollah itself has yet to comment, although Aoun is their official candidate.
Hezbollah has now come under pressure to once and for all elect Aoun, which it has failed to do thus far, leaving Lebanon without a president for over 2 1/2 years.
But, it is Hezbollah, in fact, that is blocking Aoun’s election, as it refuses to attend parliament sessions.
Observers say the reason is that Damascus prefers a weak state with no president at all.
Unsure of what Hezbollah’s next move might be, Junblatt met with his party on Saturday to discuss the latest developments, although no decision has been made thus far to back Aoun.
Earlier, Junblatt had backed Hariri’s previously anointed candidate, Sulaiman Franjieh and the Marada Movement leader still enjoyed Berri’s backing.
Amal Party tenors accused Aoun and Hariri of seeking a bilateral agreement whose aim was to marginalise Shiites and Druze in power, allegations that Aoun and his movement denied.
Still, Junblatt remains a pillar of Lebanese politics, often referred to as the country’s “kingmaker” because of his small bloc’s track-record of tipping the balance during key votes.
In reality, and because of the way he played his hand, the Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea emerged as the real kingmaker in 2016, when he rejected the March 14 switch in late December 2015 from him to Franjieh.
On January 18, 2016, Geagea reconciled with Aoun in an epochal accord that broke cornered Hariri, ended the March 14 coalition despite pronouncements to the contrary, and rendered Junblatt’s role irrelevant.
Meanwhile in Tripoli, the governor was ordered to take down all banners deriding Aoun and Hariri.
Hariri’s latest manoeuvres ended what was left of the March 14 coalition too, especially after a dozen Future Movement officials refused to back the former premier, something that drew the ire of scores of Sunnis.
Future Party leader Fouad Siniora declared that he would not vote for Aoun and, according to the Kuwaiti daily Al Anba’, agreed to join independent lawmakers in a new gathering which would be known as the “White Movement”, a name derived from their anticipated blank votes.
Minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi lambasted Aoun and pledged to stand in the face of what he defined is a new “Iranian custodianship of the Lebanese people,” adding: “We will maintain our presence and our identity as Lebanese Arabs.”
Speaking in public to a large crowd he derided Hariri for his lack of “courage” accusing him of surrendering to his opponents at the expense of the country and its identity.
Rifi affirmed that the selection of Aoun as president would only seal what he termed unacceptable Iranian influence that will endanger the country with more divisions.
Rifi shot to stardom after he submitted his resignation earlier this year over the judiciary’s failure to prosecute Lebanese politician Michel Samaha for plotting attacks in the country at the behest of Syria.
Observers say Rifi is looking to replace Hariri as the leader of Lebanese Sunnis and he has not minced his words when criticising the son of the widely-respected Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 in car bomb, believed to be linked to Hezbollah and Syria.