Hezbollah's Presidential Endorsement Sparks Dissent Among Lebanese Political Parties

March 8, 2023 Topic: Lebanon Region: Middle East Blog Brand: Lebanon Watch Tags: LebanonMiddle EastHezbollahMichel Aoun

Hezbollah's Presidential Endorsement Sparks Dissent Among Lebanese Political Parties

Hezbollah’s endorsement of Suleiman Frangieh for the Lebanese presidency is causing dissent among various political groups.

 

Hezbollah’s endorsement of Suliman Frangieh for the Lebanese presidency was a long-anticipated event, which became official during a televised speech by the group’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, on Monday evening. Nasrallah declared, “the candidate we support is Suliman Frangieh.”

There was no ambiguity among the Lebanese people about the pro-Iranian Shite movement’s preference for Frangieh as Michel Aoun’s successor, whose mandate ended in October 2022. However, it was also clear which political parties and actors would vehemently oppose this decision.

 

There is already growing dissent among some groups about Hezbollah’s endorsement of Suliman Frangieh, which they view as unacceptable. The opposition is not necessarily aimed at Frangieh himself, but rather the process of how he is being presented, which is perceived as a “take it or leave it” style of politics. Speaking to me, Najat Saliba, a new member of parliament, expressed her disapproval of Frangieh’s endorsement and the manner in which it is being carried out, saying, “This is using force to impose a candidate on everyone. I think the democratic process requires that the person announces his candidacy for the presidency. He has not done so. If Hezbollah wants this person as a candidate, they should let him advance his candidacy and let democracy prevail.” According to Najat, the approach being used is not the normal procedure used by democratic countries to elect presidents. “The use of force is obvious here, and the intentions are not aimed at building a country and respecting democracy. It is the opposite; it is imposing their own candidate in the form of a dictatorship.”

A spokesperson for Lebanese Forces (LF), an opposition political party, has responded to Nasrallah’s speech and clarified his party’s position on the issue of the presidency. The spokesperson stated, “It has been clear from day one that Hezbollah supports Mr. Frangieh, so the declaration came as no surprise. Therefore, we do not feel the need to respond to Nasrallah’s declaration, but we want to emphasize that it confirms our concerns and positions.” The spokesperson criticized Nasrallah for not sending his MPs to the parliament since September 29, which was the date of the first session to elect a president. Instead, he wasted eleven sessions and more than four months of blank ballots, obstructing the course of the constitution and preventing the election of a president. The spokesperson suggested that Nasrallah should have sent his MPs to vote for Mr. Frangieh earlier, rather than waiting until now to make the endorsement public.

When asked if there were any circumstances under which the LF could view Frangieh as a viable option, the party spokesperson responded by stating that “we tend not to argue about the persona of Mr. Frangieh, since we believe it is not individual who will really govern, but rather the program and the alliances he can forge. And although we have developed good relations with him, Mr. Frangieh is unfortunately aligned with Hezbollah’s program, which we totally oppose.” The spokesperson added that the majority of the Lebanese people also oppose Hezbollah’s program, as evidenced by the last elections last May.

If Frangieh wishes to become the next president, he would need the support of a major Christian bloc in parliament, which he currently lacks. It is possible that Hezbollah is banking on the situation becoming so desperate that the opposition will eventually concede, hoping to salvage some sort of victory.

Such a scenario has occurred previously: in 2016, the LF’s leader, Samir Geagea, endorsed Michel Aoun through the Maarab Agreement in exchange for a number of concessions. That endeavor ultimately failed. Since then, the LF has learned its lesson and is holding the line against making any deals with candidates that receive the blessing of Hezbollah. Geagea himself has repeatedly said his party would reject Frangieh entering office.

Like Michel Aoun, Suleiman Frangieh was an old rival of the LF from the Lebanese Civil War. However, in 2018, thanks to meditation by Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros Rai, both individuals and their respective parties reconciled. This, however, did not mean the two have a common vision for the country: the LF is still insistent that no pro-Hezbollah president should enter the presidential palace, and stressed it will boycott such proposals.

The LF is not alone in its disapproval, albeit for different reasons. 

In response to Nasrallah’s speech, a parliamentarian from the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Salim Aoun (no relationship with Michel Aoun), tweeted that his party is aligned with either side.

Until recently, Hezbollah and FPM were close allies. They signed a memorandum of understanding in 2006—the Mar Mikhael Agreement. At the time, Hassan Nasrallah and then-FPM leader Michel Aoun met to forge an alliance that would bring both parties greater prestige and resources. Now, the two have unofficially separated due to Hezbollah’s endorsement of Frangieh. The current leader of FPM, Gebran Bassil, has presidential ambitions of his own, and has refused to go along with endorsing Frangieh.

In Lebanon’s sectarian system, the top posts are typically divided among the country’s different religious confessions. The presidency belongs to the Maronite Christians. In a manner of speaking, the position has become a seat for the voiceless. This time, however, there is a candidate who may become president but has no Maronite Christian backing. Of course, in the unforeseeable world of Lebanese politics, anything is possible. But as of now, the response to Frangieh is a resounding no.

Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.

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