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Lebanese Elections Linked To Syria, Regional Crisis

Although regional crises threaten to postpone upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections, the international community is insistent upon elections taking place on time, writes Mohammad Harfoush.
Pope Benedict XVI is greeted by the patriarch of Lebanese Christian Maronites, Bishara Boutros al-Rai, as Lebanon's President looks on upon  his arrival at Beirut's airport September, 14, 2012. REUTERS/ Jamal Saidi          (LEBANON - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS) - RTR37YUG

Lebanon's electoral and political landscape remains under close surveillance as regional and international fault lines take shape. This anticipation results from new information implying that the next three months will be critical in deciding the fate of the Syrian conflict. Reports from Western countries suggest that Russian sources have presented information to Lebanese leaders showing that ongoing skirmishes in Damascus are primed to ignite into full-scale war. If these assessments are accurate, Lebanon would experience significant repercussions within its borders.

Spillover from Syria is likely to create security disturbances inside Lebanon. These events could inhibit other developments in Lebanon — or, put more plainly, unless the clouds of the Syrian conflict disperse, Lebanon will remain void of political dialogue, election law reform and elections. And according to international consensus, Syria's long-standing crisis is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

Diplomatic sources have revealed secret communications between the major countries about maintaining Lebanon’s fragile stability in the face of three separate approaching challenges: first, the upcoming international tribunal procedures; second, the ramifications of the Syrian crisis; and third, results from the June parliamentary elections.

Sources confirmed that the international community’s major decision-making centers want to ensure that Lebanese parliamentary elections run on schedule and in accordance with electoral law, whether the current law or a reformed one. These elections are seen as a step towards future presidential elections, scheduled to take place in the spring of 2014. Sources have indicated that Washington and major European capitals are determined that elections happen on time — even if those elections must be conducted below normal standards.

These sources show a clear intent to prevent any spillover of military activity from the Syrian crisis into Lebanon. They also have revealed plans to coordinate with the current government and vest it with responsibility in this regard.

Reports received by Lebanese sources indicate that covert regional consultations are ongoing to oversee the results of the parliamentary elections. The objective of these talks is to breach the political deadlock and divisions between political forces, in order to assuage the growing Sunni-Shiite rift — which some fear will worsen following the events in Iraq and Syria. These sources have pointed to communications between Gulf countries and Lebanese religious authorities, inviting Lebanese political leaders to visit Saudi Arabia and Qatar — a political maneuver that most certainly considered Iran’s influence in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, diplomats working in Lebanon have admitted that the Syrian crisis poses many potential pitfalls for the parliamentary elections, in addition to Lebanon's domestic tensions that threaten instability.

According to observers, recent actions by the patriarch are as important as the international commitment to push through the elections and protect the unity of the Lebanese state. Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi recently told leaders that the West, and specifically the Vatican, have sent incontrovertible signals that the elections must happen on schedule.

In addition, Papal Nuncio Gabriel Katchia said that the Vatican would not accept the postponement of the elections. The Holy See has received several proposals to postpone the elections which it quickly and unequivocally rejected. Moreover, it stated that it is prepared to fulfill the role required of it and exert the necessary pressure to create an atmosphere in which free and fair democratic elections can be held, in order to help Lebanon and the Lebanese people pass through this stage with minimal losses.

Mohammad Harfoush is a Lebanese journalist reporting for the Kuwaiti Al-Anbaa newspaper and the author of Eritrea: Basic Facts.


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