JERUSALEM (Aug. 18)
The election by the Lebanese Parliament of a new President, scheduled for tomorrow as the first major step in the restoration of Lebanese political stability after the expected withdrawal of PLO terrorists, appeared today to be facing major domestic differences, including a Christian-Moslem dispute as to whether the election should be held tomorrow.
So far there is only one candidate, 34-year-old Bashir Gemayel, son of Pierre Gemayal, leader of the rightwing Phalangist Maronites. But, reflecting the upheavals of Lebanon’s long occupation by Syrian forces and PLO terrorists, Bashir Gemayel has only 15 firm commitments and he needs the majority of a minimum quorum of 62 of the Parliament’s present 92 members.
Bashir Gemayel, known to be favored by Israel, is opposed by most Lebanese Moslem groups. The turbulence Lebanon has suffered, capped by the Israeli invasion, appeared to have damaged the usual process of Moslem-Christian political accommodation in Lebanon. That accommodation requires that the President must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Moslem, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shiite Moslem. The president has a six-year term and that of President Elias Sarkis expires September 23.
A related problem is that about 30 Deputies come from areas under Syrian domination. A smaller number come from areas controlled by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who has come out strongly against Bashir Gemayel’s candidacy.
TWO MOVES TO MOLLIFY SYRIANS
Observers said that if the Syrians want to do so, they can place a significant obstacle in Bashir Gemayel’s path and perhaps prevent his election. The lone candidate is aware of that problem and in recent days has taken two steps to appease the Syrians.
In a newspaper interview, Gemayel, who is considered a “collaborator” with Israel — the Phalangist Party’s military force received military aid from Israel prior to the “Peace for Galilee” action Israel launched last June 6 –said that if he was elected President, it would not be up to him, but to “the people,”no sign a peace with Israel. His second move was to send a delegation to Damascus, apparently to try to persuade the Syrians to support his candidacy.
Gemayal was conceded to be entitled to credit for one successful move. He prevailed over Lebanese Moslems who wonted the election to be postponed until after completion of the withdrawal of the Israeli forces. They had contended that the Presidential election should not be held “at gun-point.”
In an effort to prevent a Christian-Moslem clash over the timing of the election, Saeb Salaam and Takki A-Din, leaders of the Moslem Sunni camp, met with Pierre Gemayal and Camille Chamoun, a former President and now the leader of the rightwing, mainly Christian alliance known as the Lebanese Front, of which the Phalangist Party is the senior partner.
Despite protests from the Jumblatt camp, the Moslem Sunni leaders approved the election. But Salaam told reporters that the election should not be held in haste and if done with a violent challenge, there could be very serious consequences.” Observers commented that the fact that Bashir Gemayel is the only Presidential candidate is not coincidental. With the defeat of the PLO and the Syrians, he relies on one of the strongest military forces now functioning in Lebanon — the Phalangist Party army which numbers some 30,000 fighters. Gemayel is the only possible candidate who can afford to bid for the Presidency without concern over the fact that he is blamed as one who cooperated with the Israeli invasion.
ISRAEL REMAINING ALOOF
Officially, Israel is remaining aloof from the election process, but at least one Israeli minister — Yuval Neeman of Tehiya, the newly-named Science and Development Minister — has expressed open support for Gemayel. Accordingly, Israel’s position is that it has no intention of becoming involved in the election.
But observers have declared that Israel may react less objectively if Gemayel fails or on alternative candidate emerges. It is known that Gemayel is not popular outside of his direct supporters and that he has strong opposition even in the Christian camp.
If Gemayel is elected President, observers said this would constitute a revolution in Lebanese polities. Until Lebanon was wrecked by internal clashes and then by the Syrian and PLO occupation, the only democracy in the Arab world was ruled by older, conservative politicians.
Gemayel is an American-style candidate, who relies on his own military forces and on the unobtrusive support of Israel. As President, he will face many, problems. Israel will expect him to establish conditions making it impossible for Lebanon to again serve as a terrorist operational base. To do that and to restore domestic stability, he will need a lot of talent and luck, and some observers feel that even that will not be enough to do the job.