From the day after the first parliamentary session last month to elect a new president, the traditional opposition has been working to unify its ranks in order to improve the standing of its candidate Michel Moawad.
Moawad managed to collect 36 votes after Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri put pressure on all actors. However, while urging them to agree on a candidate, Berri did not give them the luxury of time. Yesterday, Berri called the MPs to convene for a second round of voting on Oct. 13 at 11 a.m., again not waiting for them to reach a consensus on a candidate — as he had promised to do when he adjourned the first session. The traditional opposition bloc now faces a short deadline to rally the largest number of MPs, including those who had cast votes for “Lebanon” in the first session, behind their cause.
It was Moawad himself who had initiated these efforts when he left the Parliament last Thursday. “My hand is extended to the rest of the opposition,” stated publicly, in an apparent invitation to MPs other than those from the Kataeb, Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party who had already voted for him. His invitation included “the MPs of the protest movement,” who had voted for businessman and L’Orient-Le Jour shareholder Salim Edde, as well as “those who voted for ‘Lebanon.’”
The next day, Moawad took action and met with MP Walid Baarini, a former member of the Future Movement party. Baarini, accompanied by several other MPs from the North, subsequently met with an LF delegation and with three Kataeb MPs: party leader Samy Gemayel, Salim Sayegh and Nadim Gemayel.
Garnering support from the North
Speaking to L’Orient-Le Jour, Sayegh said the meeting that took place on Friday is not part of a campaign by the traditional opposition camp in favor of Moawad. Rather, he said, “we are trying to sing from the same song sheet in view of the presidential elections.”
Following that same meeting, Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel touched upon the same topic in a public statement. “We want to put in place a joint strategy in view of an election that will decide the future of Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
“It is important for us to elect a president who is able to have a dialogue with Hezbollah and the rest of the actors,” added Sayegh.
Does this mean that the Kataeb has given up on the Moawad option? “Not at all,” Sayegh said. “We voted for Michel Moawad without hesitation and we must give his candidacy every chance. As long as the data has not changed, our position will remain as is.” The four Kataeb MPs plan to cast their ballots once again for the Zgharta MP during the second parliamentary voting session on Thursday.
The same is true for LF head Samir Geagea, who has made the unification of the parliamentary opposition his mission, presenting himself as the sponsor of the Moawad candidacy. On Thursday he received a delegation of MPs from the North.
“We reaffirmed our unwavering support for Michel Moawad,” said Fadi Karam, an LF MP who took part in the meeting.
“The majority of opposition members agree on the qualities of the Zgharta MP [Moawad] and his sovereignist discourse,” Karam went on. “But, beyond his personality, efforts are currently being made to lead the opposition candidate to the presidency.”
According to Karam, the MPs from the North did not support this candidacy, fearing that agreeing on a figure deemed provocative would provoke Hezbollah and its allies into preventing quorum in next week’s voting session, as they had done after the first session that failed to elect a president last Thursday.
“We are for the election of a non-provocative figure,” Ahmad Khair, MP for Minyeh, told L’Orient-Le Jour. Khair had been present at the meeting with Geagea Thursday.
“This applies to Moawad, but everyone knows that he will not get the required number of votes to win.” For a candidate to win the presidency, they must receive 65 votes in the second round, while the quorum required for the session to be held is 86 out of 128 MPs — that is, two-thirds of Parliament. “We must therefore opt for dialogue to agree on a candidate,” Khair said. Baarini, his colleague from Akkar, said that his bloc will continue to cast ballots for “Lebanon,” as they did last week until a broad agreement is reached.
Where is PSP leader Joumblatt in all this, knowing that the eight MPs gravitating in his orbit can tip the balance in one direction or the other?
In the first session last week, they joined the opposition MPs who voted for Moawad. This is despite the fact that Joumblatt had expressed support for the idea of electing a consensus president rather than one who would defy Hezbollah, as advocated by Geagea.
Will the MPs of the North meet with Joumblatt soon? Baarini did not specify the date of any potential meeting. “We want to conduct a dialogue that would include all the actors, including Walid Joumblatt,” he said, without ruling out the possibility of meeting with Gebran Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement and the Hezbollah-Amal tandem.
This article was originally published in French in L’Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.
From the day after the first parliamentary session last month to elect a new president, the traditional opposition has been working to unify its ranks in order to improve the standing of its candidate Michel Moawad. Moawad managed to collect 36 votes after Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri put pressure on all actors. However, while urging them to agree on a candidate, Berri did not give them the...