Jamal Saidi / Reuters The parliament building in downtown Beirut, November 13, 2015.

The Scramble for Lebanon's Presidency

Aoun, Hariri, and the Politics of Oligarchy

After lying vacant for two and a half years, Lebanon’s presidential post will finally be filled by a parliamentary vote on Monday. The move reflects a temporary and rare confluence of interests among a majority of the country’s oligarchs and is a necessary step forward in bringing some life back to the country’s atrophying constitutional institutions. But politics in the country will remain tense and divided and noticeable improvement to governance is unlikely.

The expected winner is Michel Aoun, 81, the leader of the majority Christian Reform and Change Party, an ally of Hezbollah, and member of the March 8 coalition, which is aligned with Iran and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Aoun largely clinched the nomination two weeks ago when Saad Hariri, the leader of the opposition, a coalition between the Future Movement and other March 14 parties, came out in his support. In exchange, Hariri expects to be named prime minister. Despite resistance to Aoun’s candidacy—from parliament speaker Nabih Berri and rival presidential candidate Suleiman Frangieh, both of whom are March 8 coalition members—Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah appeared to seal the deal in a public address endorsing Aoun, as well as accepting Hariri’s possible return as prime minister, a position he had previously held from 2009 to 2011.

The presidential office has lain vacant since May of 2014, when President Michel Suleiman’s six-year term expired. Initially, the rival March 14 and March 8 coalitions each put forward their own candidates, but neither of them garnered enough support. Nor could the two coalitions agree on a third-party candidate. Government business continued during this period, albeit at a low level of efficiency, under the national coalition government headed by Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

Many political leaders and parties exhibited little urgency in filling the presidential vacancy, but Hariri has felt more need to do so. In the recent local elections, his party lost in the northern Sunni city of Tripoli and only narrowly won the critical local elections in the Future TV. Hariri needs the presidential vacancy filled so that he can return to the premiership. Last year, Hariri had nominated Aoun’s rival, Frangieh, but the selection triggered a rapprochement between Aoun and longtime rival Samir Geagea. Together, Aoun and Geagea whipped up strong opposition to Frangieh’s nomination within the Christian community and it was scuttled.

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