Disagreements between political alliances had left Lebanon without a president since 2014
Michel Aoun, onetime disputed president, was welcomed to palace with 21-gun salute
Lebanon’s parliament ended the country’s 29-month leadership stalemate Monday by electing a Hezbollah-backed former army general and disputed president who once considered Syria a bitter enemy.
Michel Aoun is slated to be sworn in as the country’s president Monday, ending a political stalemate that had left the country without a head of state for more than two years.
“The President expressed his thanks to the Prime Minister and all ministers, and requested that the Cabinet [act] as a caretaker until the formation of a new Cabinet,” Aoun said in a statement.
A Maronite Christian known as “The General,” Aoun is a politically-divisive figure who is affiliated with Hezbollah and other members of the political coalition known as the March 8 Alliance, which ruled Lebanon between mid-2011 and early 2013.
Lebanon’s history of instability
The two-and-a-half-year political void was the product of disagreements between the March 8 Alliance and the anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance led by ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his Sunni Lebanese Future Movement.
Hariri, the son of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and who has close ties to Saudi Arabia, backed Aoun’s nomination in a move that could be seen as a political win for Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies.
Under Lebanon’s constitution, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister must be a Sunni and the speaker of the parliament must be a Shiite Muslim.
Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement is the main party in the March 8 Alliance and the second-largest party in Lebanon, behind the Future Movement.
He won 84 votes in the first round of voting, not quite enough to secure the necessary two-thirds majority in the 128-seat parliament, according to the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar television station.
In a second round, Aoun surpassed the 50%-plus-one quorum requirement with 83 votes, Al-Manar reported.
During Lebanon’s civil war, Aoun’s battalion fought pro-Syria forces. He became the country’s president in 1988, although some factions disputed it. He was then forced out of the presidential palace and into exile in France in 1990.
He returned to Lebanon in 2005 and has served as a member of parliament since then. He signed a memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah in 2006.
The Republican Guard Brigade welcomed Aoun back to Baabda Palace outside Beirut with a 21-gun salute, the state-run National News Agency, an arm of the Information Ministry, reported.
The U.S. State Department considers Hezbollah a foreign terrorist organization. In 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department also designated Hezbollah a terrorist group for its support of the Syrian regime.
“This action highlights Hezbollah’s activities within Syria as well as its integral role in the continued violence being carried out by the (President Bashar) Assad regime against the Syrian population,” said David Cohen, then-Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.