Monday, January 7, 2008

A solution reached in Lebanon?

News came through that the Arab League, for once in its life, has reached what seems to be a workable solution regarding the Lebanese situation. The League proposes Michel Suleiman to be the new president who then has to form a unity government, based upon a 10-10-10 distribution of seats: 10 for March 8, 10 for March 14 and, unique, 10 seats for the president, with no party having veto rights.

Also, the president will stay on for only 2 years with the primary assignment to arrange for a new election law. Clearly, this is a gesture to Michel Aoun who can now be appeased by the promise of running for office next time around.

This solution will give the president much more power and basically overthrows the Taif Agreement, something that March 8 was considering recently, while March 14 has always vehemently opposed any change to Taif. Now, however, March 14 is fully behind the proposal of the Arab League, possibly because they got the candidate it wanted, namely general Michel Suleiman. They must feel confident he is on their side.

That’s a confidence shared by Syria who is also fully behind this proposal. It’s like a poker game where both parties are confident they have a royal flush. Yet, despite all the confidence, no one is really sure what Suleiman will do once he becomes president and where his loyalties lie.

It wouldn’t be surprising that Syria knows more about Suleiman’s political affiliation than March 14 given that Syria has much to lose once the UN Tribunal takes place. Would Syrian leader Assad really pin his political future on the turn of a friendly card?

What's interesting in this regard, was the suggestion of Assad only three days ago that he would be willing to drop a key demand, namely the veto right for the Opposition in return for giving up Suleiman. This might have thrown March 14 off track by making them believe Assad truly does not want Suleiman. By now accepting him, Assad makes it look as if he is making a huge concession.

Still, despite having perhaps doubts about Assad's true intentions, the Sunnis cannot back down after all the strong support for Suleiman. Likewise, the Maronites will be placated by the newly found influence: having 1/3 of the ministerial seats directly placed under presidential control will strengthen the weakened position of the highest job in the country.

The only question will be the reaction of Hezbollah. At first sight, it seems they would lose out under the current proposal: not only didn’t they get a blocking vote in the government, but the Christians are actually getting stronger despite demographic developments that are clearly to the advantage of the Shiites. Were they sold out by Syria due to pressure from other Arab states, including threats to not attend the upcoming meeting in Damascus which would be significant blow to the prestige of the regime?

Unlikely. Syria has been under pressure ever since the Baath party took over. More believable is the scenario that the Syrians are trying to drive a wedge between the Christians and the Sunnis. The alliance between Aoun and Hezbollah can now be played out to the fullest with Aoun claiming that is was his influence that gave the president a much larger role. The initial reaction of Hezbollah to the Arab League proposal was therefore positive.

It will be interesting to see how things will develop: will all sides agree and will Lebanon have a president elected during the next parliamentary session coming Saturday?

Update: LibanCall just reported that Michel Aoun has suggested to distribute the government seats according to the formula 14-11-5, 14 seats being for March 14 and 5 being for the president. This would allow the Opposition to gain the critical one-third of the votes and thus the ability to veto any proposal.

In combination with Nasrallah's insistance on 'true partnership' (read: veto right in unity government for opposition), the prospect of having a new president by Saturday is getting smaller.

3 comments:

JoseyWales said...

Riemer,

I did not know about the 2-yr prez term. Where did you get that?

Riemer Brouwer said...

@Josey Wales,

The 2 year term comes from the Syria Comment blog, see the link in the article.

AK said...

Riemer,

I haven't seen the two-year presidency thing anywhere. It's not in the AL statement, and the Lebanese papers do not mention it. Joshua Landis seems to have made it up based on his own "analysis".