24 September 2007

Lebanon's leading presidential candidates

But the election has been postponed, since so far there is no agreement on a consensus candidate.

The opposition wants to make sure that a consensus candidate is agreed on before they will show up in the parliament hall.

In other words the election , if it will ever take place will be just a formality.

The opposition is insisting on a quorum of 2 thirds of the parliament members. There are 128 MPs

The pro government majority is down to 68 members after the loss of MP Antoine Ghanem who was assassinated last week.

The term of current president Emile Lahoud expires on November 23. The deadline for electing a president is November 24, 2007

The majority is counting on electing a president with simple majority ( half +1) of the March 14 alliance within the last 10 days of the deadline if no consensus candidate is agreed on by November 14.

There are many declared and undeclared candidates for the presidential election. Professor Chibli Mallat has declared his candidacy , while former president Amine Gemayel, MP Nayla Mowawad, MP Samir Franjiyeh, etc. have not declared their candidacy. The leading candidates are hereby listed in alphabetical order. All are from the Maronite Christian community for which the presidency is reserved in Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.

Michel Aoun ( first row second from left )
Aoun was born on February 19, 1935 in Beirut (Haret Hreik) and is the nominal head of the Free Patriotic Movement. Aoun was elected a deputy from Kesrouan in 2005 and served as commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces from 1984 to 1990. From September 1988 to 1990, he was empowered by outgoing President Amine Gemayel to lead one of Lebanon's two opposing governments but was defeated by Syrian forces in October 1990. He took refuge at the French embassy in Beirut and was forced into exile to France for 15 years. Aoun returned to Beirut in 2005, after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. While expected to side with the majority, which would press for a Syrian military withdrawal, Aoun signed a controversial memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah in February 2006. He has won several tactical victories both in the 2005 parliamentary elections as well as the August 2007 Metn by-election, which transformed him into a controversial and colourful contender.

Still, Aoun frequently wonders why he is rejected by those affiliated with the majority, who do not trust him and refuse to acknowledge his record is less than stellar. His supporters say that no personal ambitions motivate their "General", whereas the majority perceives him as an opportunist who places his glory ahead of the state's interests. More importantly, many of his early supporters have deserted him and his two-year long record in Parliament is also considered weak. Should he be elected, some wonder whether he will continue to rely on colourful language, which is certainly entertaining but seldom presidential.

Robert Ghanem ( second row first right)
Ghanem was born on June 18, 1942 in the Bekaa valley and is a member of parliament. Interestingly, Ghanem won his 2005 seat on the "National Resolve List", a rare phenomenon backed by Hariri's Mustaqbal (Future) Movement, Nabih Berri's Amal Movement and Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party. He is the son of former Army Commander Iskandar Ghanem and considered a constitutional authority.

Boutros Harb ( first row second from right )
Harb was born on August 3, 1944 in Tannourine (Metn) and has served as a member of parliament. Best known for his repeated attempts to run for president, Harb issued a detailed programme during a well-attended news conference on August 31, 2007, in which he outlined a six-year plan to unite various factions under the authority of the head of state.

His platform rests on the premise that the Lebanese president must uphold the 1989 Taif Accord without shunning national leaders who reject particular aspects of the agreement. This articulate contender insisted on national unity, declared his opposition to contemplated naturalisation for the estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees, as well as the transformation of Palestinian camps into security zones that have so far been outside the state's authority. Harb reiterated the importance of liberating the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, underscored his commitment to all UN resolutions (from 1559 to 1701), the deployment of UNIFIL+ in Southern Lebanon and the empowerment of the military to defend the country from all foes. He called for dialogue with Syria based on established traditions, but wished to strengthen them further by insisting on mutual respect for sovereignty and independence.

Nassib Lahoud ( first row first left )
Lahoud was born on November 23, 1944 in Baabdat (Metn), is a trained engineer with a degree from the United Kingdom. He founded Lahoud Engineering and served as ambassador to the US (1990-1991) before running for Parliament. He won three consecutive four-year terms before he was narrowly defeated in 2005 by an Aounist candidate. He is the president of the Democratic Renewal Movement, which was founded in 2001, and is a reform-mandated opposition group that is widely supported among the country's intelligentsia.

A distant cousin of President Emile Lahoud, Nassib situated himself early on in the anti-Syrian camp and while he opposed former premier Hariri's economic policies, he agreed with the latter about the need to end Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Significantly, he was one of the few parliamentarians who voted against constitutional amendments to extend the mandates of both presidents — Hrawi in 1995 and Emile Lahoud in 2004.

Jean Obeid ( second row first left)
Obeid was born on May 8, 1939 and has served in several governments, most recently as foreign minister in 2003-2004. Obeid also served as a deputy from Tripoli .
He was close to the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and to Hariri.
Obeid is seen as one of the likelier consensus candidates. He was an adviser to the late President Elias Sarkis and to President Amin Gemayel on Syrian and Arab affairs

Charles Rizk ( first row first right )
Rizk was born on July 20, 1935 in Maad (Jbeil-Metn), and served as minister of justice in the Siniora government. The former head of Tele Liban, the state's official broadcasting vehicle, Rizk gained admiration for his painstaking negotiations with United Nations envoys to help establish the international tribunal that will identify and try individuals implicated in the murder of Rafik Hariri. The gregarious Rizk is well liked on both sides of the aisle, though his uncompromising stand on the Hariri tribunal may work against him.

Riad Salameh ( second row second from left)
Salameh was once the late Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri's private banker. He has served as central bank governor since 1993 and might also need a constitutional amendment before he could be elected president.

He is credited with maintaining a safe monetary policy, building up foreign currency reserves and stabilizing the Lebanese pound in the face of political assassinations and in the aftermath of the Israel-Hezbollah war.

In 2006 the U.S. finance magazine Euromoney chose him as the world's best central banker of the year.

Electing Salameh would require a constitutional amendment to allow a senior public servant run for office, a major hurdle.

Michel Suleiman ( second row second from right)
Suleiman, 59, has been army commander since 1998. On his watch, Israeli troops left south Lebanon in 2000, Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in 2006 and the army battled al Qaeda-inspired militants in north Lebanon this year.

The general has been credited with keeping the army neutral during domestic splits and violence over the past three years.

He gained national popularity during the army's 15-week struggle to defeat Islamist fighters in a Palestinian refugee camp. March 14 leaders remain wary of him, partly because he did not order troops to suppress anti-government street protests.

Like Salameh, electing Suleiman would require a constitutional amendment to allow a senior public servant run for office, a major hurdle.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.