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The meeting held by the Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc on Tuesday evening confirmed that the presidential issue, stalled for months, has taken a new direction. The agreement between the Free Patriotic Movement and the sovereigntist opposition on the candidacy of former minister Jihad Azour seems indeed serious, and has changed the electoral equation.

The meeting coincided with the one Maronite Patriarch Béchara Raï had with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, which probably allowed the Élysée Palace to better hear the message expressed by the main Christian parties and opposition deputies with regard to the presidential election. A message that the Patriarch clearly conveyed to his host. A third meeting was held simultaneously, that of the Lebanese opposition parties, determined not to accept a candidate imposed by March 8, and refusing “to choose between the presidential vacancy and the hegemony of Hezbollah”, as opposition parliamentarians told This is Beirut.

The Mirna Chalouhi meeting

The participation of ex-president Michel Aoun, founder of the FPM, in the meeting of the bloc – an extremely rare event in recent months – has demonstrated the importance of the issue for the head of the Aounist formation, Gebran Bassil. He knows that the presence of his father-in-law will clearly influence certain deputies who do not approve of his decision to coordinate with the opposition and, above all, to support a candidate who is not from the Strong Lebanon bloc.

The bloc “discussed the presidential election at length, policy options and directions were presented in detail, and MPs gave their views,” the statement said. “The previously agreed path, led by the leader of the bloc and based on an agreement with the opposition on a candidate, has been confirmed”, added the FPM.

The announcement of the candidate “will be made later, when the discussions on the program, the modalities of the election and the guarantee of broad parliamentary support have been completed”, said the bloc. The statement underlined that “the election of a president and his success require consensus. It should not be about political groups challenging each other”.

The Opposition

Mirna Chalouhi’s press release was eagerly awaited by the various political parties. While the March 8 parties, notably Hezbollah and the Amal movement, wanted Gebran Bassil to reconsider, the sovereigntist parties hoped that he would confirm his decision in favor of coordination.

His presence in Parliament on Tuesday, in the Administration and Justice Committee, surprised more than one deputy, since the leader of the FPM rarely attends committee meetings. When asked during the day by This is Beirut, several deputies, from all sides, were still in expectation, awaiting the results the Aounist bloc meeting. Indeed, the sovereignist deputies had reasons to be skeptical, previous experiences with Gebran Bassil having rarely been reassuring.

The only deputy who, before anyone else, continuously believed in this coordination, is Fadi Karam (Lebanese Forces). Karam is the main architect of this rapprochement between the Lebanese Forces and the Aounist formation, through his meetings with his colleague from Koura, Georges Atallah (FPM).

In a statement to This is Beirut on Tuesday evening, Karam said the position expressed in the statement was expected. He welcomed “the confirmation by the FPM of the coordination with the opposition, and the decision to announce the candidate after consultation on the modalities with the various parties”.

Either way, opposition sources stress the importance of this “convergence” being correctly done and being protected. They note that the current coordination “blocks the candidacy” of the Marada leader, Sleiman Frangieh, supported by Hezbollah and Amal movement. After having tried to achieve this by rallying 65 opposition MPs around the candidacy of Michel Moawad, and having failed because of fifteen deputies who did not want to take a clear stand, the sovereigntist parties took another path, that of an agreement with the FPM on a figure who represents the State, the only solution to “escape the imposed conundrum: presidential vacancy or Hezbollah hegemony”.

The opposition will “seriously lead” the battle for Jihad Azour, according to these sources.


On the Aounist side, if the presence of President Michel Aoun helped to maintain a calm atmosphere during the bloc meeting, the fact remains that some of its members would have preferred to support the candidacy of a FPM deputy, such as Ibrahim Kanaan, rather than that of Jihad Azour.

According to sources close to the bloc, some MPs did not hide their disagreement with the path followed and the “convergence” with the opposition. According to these deputies, no final decision has been taken yet: “The process is still long, let’s wait to see the program and the modalities.”

And now?

This agreement changes the equation in Parliament. Will Speaker of the House, Nabih Berri, who had stressed the need to hold an election session as soon as possible, summon the deputies to an electoral session, even if the votes in favor of the candidate of March 8 are not insured? After having denounced the inability of the Christian blocs to agree on a candidate, will he call on them to vote, now that they have managed to agree?

Be that as it may, it should be noted that Jihad Azour’s candidacy currently enjoys the support of the main Christian parties, in particular the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb and the FPM, but also of a multi-confessional bloc, the Renewal (Michel Moawad, Adib Abdel Massih, Achraf Rifi and Fouad Makhzoumi). Jihad Azour could count on the support of the Progressive Socialist Party and at least three Change MPs: Mark Daou, Waddah Sadek and Michel Doueihy. Other Change MPs could join, as well as independents, like Bilal Hchaimi.

Where will the FPM-opposition agreement lead? The next few weeks will hold the answer. However, one thing is certain: the presidential election has taken a new direction. The Lebanese hope that this new turn of events helps the country break the current deadlock.