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Lebanon - Presidential Election 31 October 2016

Outgoing President Michel Sleiman stepped down in May 2014 after six years in office. By mid-January 2015, parliament had failed on 17 occasions to reach a two thirds vote to name a successor. The role of president is filled by a Maronite Christian. The two most prominent Maronite Christian candidates are Michel Aoun, who has partnered with the country’s Shia political and military organization Hezbollah as part of a coalition of parties known as "March 8," and Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea, the candidate from the "March 14" coalition backed by the Sunni-affiliated Future Movement party.

The Hezbollah-Aoun alliance in parliament lobbied for a Aoun presidency, but its blockage by Hariri and his allies has caused them effectively to prevent the election of a new Lebanese president in parliament since May 2014. Hezbollah and Aoun held out, insisting that Aoun would be president or there would be no president at all. By the end of 2015 the inability of the country’s leaders to find consensus led to a virtually frozen government and the failure to pick a president for a year and a half.

Suleiman Franjieh made a long-expected announcement 17 December 2015 that he would run for president of Lebanon. He said he had delayed his official candidacy to allow Christian leader Michel Aoun, a retired general and former army commander, the opportunity to withdraw from contention. Aoun was supported by the powerful pro-Iranian Hezbollah group. Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri offered to support Franjieh if the latter would appoint him to head a new government. Franjieh is the grandson of former President Suleiman Franjieh, who led the country when civil war broke out in 1975. He is reputed to be a close friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Frangieh as president would give the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia an upper hand for the next six years.

On 18 January 2016 Samir Geagea withdrew his presidential candidacy in support of his rival, Michel Aoun. The move was an effort to break the ongoing political deadlock in Lebanon, which has been without a president for nearly two years. Aoun, an 80-year-old ex-army commander, still needed the support of Lebanon's parliament. While he was a strong ally of the Shiite Hezbollah terrorist organization, Aoun also had many enemies within the country's government. Geagea had been staunchly opposed to Aoun's candidacy, a factor that led to stalled negotiations over the previous 20 months. Geagea's move was all the more surprising because he fought against Aoun's forces during the civil war that divided the country in the 1980s and 1990s.

If elected, Aoun - considered as Hezbollah's man - would officially make Lebanon an Iranian satellite, which many believe could usher in a period of calm. Many Lebanese remember Aoun, an elderly and perhaps craven figure, for running to the French embassy in Beirut once the Syrians attacked his own army in 1989, and for remaining in France for seven years before returning to Lebanon. Aoun was one of the strongest opponents of the Saudi-brokered Taif agreement, which ended Lebanon's civil war.

Geagea was staunchly against the Shiite movement (Iran's proxy army which fights alongside Assad's regime forces in Syria). Geagea had not abandoned his Saudi support, but merely orchestrated a new tactic which was backed by Saudi Arabia's deputy prime minister Mohamed Bin Nayef.

On June 02, 2016 the Lebanese parliament failed again — on its 40th try — to choose a new president after only 39 members showed up for the electoral session, which was boycotted by parliament speaker Nabih Berri and most MPs from Hezbollah's political bloc. The deputy speaker of parliamentannounced that legislators will meet June 23 to try again to elect a new president. Former prime minister Fouad Saniora told journalists after the failed Thursday session that he thought it was the pro-Iranian Hezbollah group that was preventing an election from taking place. According to Saniora, Hezbollah says it was supporting General Michel Aoun for president but was, in fact, using the election as a bargaining chip with respect to sanctions on the group and the debate over its role in the region.

On 20 October 2016 Lebanese leaders Saad al-Hariri and prominent Christian leader and former armed forces commander Michel Aoun struck a political deal to fill the vacant presidency that may well set a record for audacity and about-faces. As part of the deal, Aoun, a Maronite Christian, was expected to appoint Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri as prime minister. The Lebanese presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian in the country's sectarian power-sharing system.

The deal reconfirmed that in politics there are no principles, only interests; and Lebanese officials reconfirmed the self-interest of individual politicians to preserve their power was the greatest interest of them all. In return for supporting Aoun as president, Hariri will be appointed prime minister. This would halt for now Hariri's slow decline as a credible political leader in the country. It also reinforced the supremacy of Shia political and military movement Hezbollah as the kingmaker in the country, while also maintaining indirect Syrian and Iranian influence in Lebanese politics.

On 31 October 2016 Lebanon's parliament elected former army commander Michel Aoun as president, ending a more than two-year power vacuum and political stalemate in the country. He has a wide support base, mostly among Lebanon's educated youth, but was considered a divisive figure in the country for his role in the 1975-90 civil war. Aoun, a strong ally of Hezbollah, secured 83 votes out of 127 after several rounds of voting. He did not win the two thirds majority in the first round, as had been widely expected. Aoun, 81, was quickly sworn in as Lebanon's 13th president, pledging political and economic reform and urging a “real partnership” among deeply divided Lebanese political factions.

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Page last modified: 07-01-2018 15:21:37 ZULU