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UN Security Council to Lebanon: Elect A New President Now

The United Nations Security Council scolded Lebanon over its inability to elect a new president in the required time frame.

by VICE News
Jun 1 2014, 12:35pm

Photo via AP

The United Nations Security Council scolded Lebanon over its inability to elect a new president before the outgoing head of state departed.

While not necessarily angry, it said it was disappointed and concerned, in a statement released Thursday.

“The Council urges the Parliament to uphold Lebanon’s longstanding democratic tradition and to work to ensure that presidential elections take place as soon as possible and without external interference,” it said.

Lebanon President Michel Sleiman left office on May 25 after six years in power, leaving a vacuum in Lebanon's top Christian position. The country's constitution demands that the president is Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim and the parliamentary speaker a Shia Muslim.

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The constitution requires that parliament convene and elect a new president before the outgoing head of state leaves. It has made five attempts over the past two months to appoint a successor to Sleiman, but each was derailed because the minimum number of members necessary did not turn up. That has not stopped politicians from finding the time to take faintly embarrassing selfies.

On May 25, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged Lebanese officials "to ensure the election of a new President without delay."

A successful presidential candidate needs to be backed by Lebanon's rival March 8 Alliance and March 14 Alliance in order to win the majority required for office.

The March 8 Alliance is a coalition of 13 parties formed in 2005. They range from Druze to Maronite to Shia, Sunni, secular, Greek Catholic and Alawi but mostly Shiite. Their main unifying point is support of Assad. The name "March 8" refers to founding date when different parties urged mass (pro-Syrian) demonstration in response to the Cedar Revolution — the series of protests that took place in the spring of 2005.

Photo via AP

The March 14 Alliance also a coalition (18 parties) also formed 2005. It promotes a heavier secular bent, but also includes Druze, Sunni, Armenians, Shiite, Sunni-Druze-Christians as a party. They are opposed to Assad as a group. They take the name from date of the Cedar Revolution.

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However, both sides are deadlocked over their positions regarding to the civil war raging just across the border in Syria. The March 8 Alliance largely supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the March 14 Alliance supports those fighting against him.

Sleiman maintained a centrist position during his time in office, but criticized militant Islamist group Hezbollah, a March 8 member, over its involvement in the Syrian war. Hezbollah has fighters in Syria backing Assad's troops.

Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow, with the Royal Institute for International Affairs' Middle East and North Africa Program told VICE News that the split between the two sides is unlikely to be remedied soon.

"There is a very serious political crisis in the country related to regional developments, especially Syria. The differences are unbridgeable and the country is split pro-Assad and anti-Assad," he said, adding that Hezbollah's involvement in Syria is likely to prove to be an "insurmountable" obstacle to agreement between the two sides.

When this kind of political schism happens in Lebanon, he adds, the checks and balances imbedded into the political system prevent any side from taking over completely, resulting in gridlock. It is not the first time this has happened, Lebanon went president-less for months before Sleiman took office in 2008.

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Despite the usual political language of Lebanon being "on the brink" or torn between "warring factions," Shehadi said this gridlock is not necessarily a disaster. "This is not a good thing, but the good side of the story is that this is how the system deals with crisis instead of breaking down completely."

As he predicted, Lebanon's post-Sleiman era has started relatively smoothly.

Ministers attended the country's first executive cabinet session on Friday since May 25 and Prime Minister Tammam Salam stressed that the Cabinet should remain in place to help in the process of electing the next president.