Will Hezbollah impose a successor to Riad Salameh?

Will Hezbollah impose a successor to Riad Salameh?

Two hypotheses can be derived from Hassan Nasrallah’s recent media appearance, in which he hinted at the possibility of Hezbollah installing Wassim Mansouri, Riad Salameh’s deputy, as a temporary replacement for the governor of Banque du Liban.

In a speech on Friday, party leader Hassan Nasrallah hinted for the first time at the possibility of installing Wissam Mansouri, the Shiite deputy governor of Banque du Liban (BDL), as a temporary replacement for Riad Salameh whose mandate as central bank governor expires in July.

“We are not with the appointment of a new BDL governor nor with the extension of Riad Salameh’s mandate,” Nasrallah said. “A caretaker government does not have the prerogative to designate a new governor. The cabinet did not appoint anyone to replace the former director of the General Security, Abbas Ibrahim, when his term came to an end.”

The underlying message of this statement is that if the position of the head of General Security, which for some time has been traditionally held a Shiite, can be temporarily entrusted to Elias Bayssari, a Christian, there should be no objection to applying a similar approach to the BDL governor.

These remarks came as a surprise since Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri had previously declared that the Shiite community did not wish to assume this responsibility in such a delicate financial context.

Two hypotheses, not necessarily contradictory, are put forward to explain such a statement.

‘An incentive’

The first theory is that Hezbollah is seeking to pressure Christian parties to endorse the party’s presidential candidate, Sleiman Frangieh.

Hezbollah hopes to negotiate a package deal, trying to strongarm the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) MPs to cast their ballots, or at least some of them, in favor of Frangieh.

“If the secretary-general’s words can serve as an incentive toward the election of a president, so be it,” Hezbollah spokesperson Mohammad Afifi Nabulsi said. “We will be happy with that. But that is not the objective.”

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces (LF) spokesperson Charles Jabbour said, “It is not acceptable to intimidate the Lebanese by refraining from designating a new [central bank] governor and perpetuating the old financial policy, whatever Hezbollah’s intentions, be they declared or tacit.”

The second hypothesis is that Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have been patiently preparing their move for months.

In February, the nonrenewal of Ibrahim’s terms grabbed headlines, especially since Hezbollah appears not to have put all its weight in the balance to defend him.

At the time, some analysts were already suggesting that the two parties were preparing a similar scenario for Salameh’s succession. But Berri cut short these rumors by announcing on several occasions that this scenario is not plausible.

Sources close to Berri even suggested a few weeks ago that the BDL deputy governor might consider resigning from his post.

“Hezbollah adopted its [current] position in agreement with the Parliament speaker,” said Nabulsi. “Therefore, what Berri said a few weeks ago is no longer valid.”

In the event no new BDL governor is appointed at the end of Salameh’s term, the second-in-line — i.e., the deputy governor — assumes the role and serves as an interim governor until the institution appoints someone to the post and resumes its normal functioning.

For many legal experts, however, Mansouri, who is seen as close to Salameh, represents “continuity” within BDL.

“There is no reason to make a link between Hassan Nasrallah’s remarks and Mansouri’s [potential] designation. It is stipulated by the law,” Nabulsi explained.

In order to convey the message to other parties, Hezbollah has cleverly relied on the FPM’s position regarding the limited powers of a caretaker government.

FPM ministers have been boycotting cabinet sessions called by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on the grounds that his government does not have the authority to hold such sessions.

For Hezbollah, the logic is clear:. “It is agreed that a caretaker cabinet cannot designate first-ranking officials,” Nabulsi said. “Our position is in line with that of the FPM and other political forces who share the same view.”

Meanwhile, several legal experts argue that it is necessary for the caretaker cabinet to take actions to ensure the continuity of public services. According to this thesis, the restrictive concept of managing day-to-day affairs ought to be replaced by the principle of urgency, which should take precedence over all other considerations, especially in the context of an acute crisis.

This view resonates with LF leader Samir Geagea, who is in favor of appointing a new governor.

On a silver plate

Installing a Shiite in the position of BDL governor could provoke an outcry in the Christian ranks, especially in the context of a presidential vacuum, [given that the post of the president is traditionally filled by a Christian Maronite].

For Hezbollah, however, the sectarian issue is put on the backburner, as the party’s priority is to ensure that the policies put forth by Salameh are not called into question in the coming months, or at least not before a new head of state is elected and a new government is formed.

The position of the BDL governor is one of the most sensitive in the eyes of the West, especially those of the US. Washington could take a very dim view of the fact that a close associate of Berri and heir to Salameh is to be appointed to this position.

“We do not comment on Hassan Nasrallah’s remarks. It is up to the Lebanese to decide [who would fill the vacancies],” an official at the US Embassy in Beirut told L’Orient-Le Jour on condition of anonymity.

“What can be done? It is the law that requires the first deputy governor to take over,” FPM MP Alain Aoun said. “We only have to elect a president as soon as possible to avoid this pitfall.”

According to him, all the parties “will readily accept” and submit to the fait accompli imposed by Hezbollah.

“The Christians have handed this advantage to the two Shiite parties on a silver platter,” Aoun added. “They failed to assess the situation or make a correct diagnosis to make an informed decision.”

Source » lorientlejour