Michel Aoun, the founder and current leader of the Free Patriotic Party was unanimously voted into power by Lebanon’s parliament and is officially president.
Mr. Aoun is the first President since 2014, a year in which the previous president, Michel Suleiman resigned.
So, the obvious question is, why has it taken Lebanon two and half years to elect a new president?
Well, when Lebanon gained independence in 1943, parliament was divided –with an intention to give equal representation to Lebanon’s three main sects. Namely, the President needs to be Christian, the Prime Minister Shia Muslim, and the House Speaker Sunni Muslim.
Now, for some readers (potentially a little too many of you) a sectarian division sounds perfect for perpetual disagreement and dysfunction.
And, in the case of parliament’s attempt to elect a president, you’d be correct, because the two and half year ‘presidential vacuum’ occurred due to a stalemate. A stalemate between the Saudi Arabian and U.S backed Sunni Free Movement Party – led by Saad Al Hariri, against Mr. Aoun’s strongest supporter, the Shia Islamist Party, Hezbollah.
The longevity of the standoff showed disregard to Lebanon’s failing parliament, whose inability to make decisions without a President rendered it useless.
Clearly, Lebanon’s situation was dire and a President was desperately required. However, when Mr. Al Hariri announced, prior to the Presidential vote (the 46th vote since 2014), that he would endorse Mr. Aoun, reports from both Al Jazeera and the BBC expressed their ‘shock’- such was the divide between the parties.
Why did Mr. Al Hariri reverse his decision?
It was inevitable that speculation would surround Mr. Hariri’s decision, after all, he remained convinced that Mr. Aoun was not appropriate for the Presidency for two and a half years.
An explanation currently in circulation is from Mr. Hariri, who, in a report by the BBC is quoted as saying, ‘[His decision] was a sacrifice to save the state from total collapse’.
Some pundits haven’t taken Mr. Al Hariri’s explanation at face value. American University of Beirut’s, Rami G Khouri, claims in an Al Jazeera report, that Mr. Hariri isn’t as altruistic as he claims, but instead has ‘struck a political deal‘ with Mr. Aoun. A deal that will purportedly make him the next Prime Minister, thus increasing his popularity and social standing by being politically relevant once more.
Regardless of Mr. Al Hariri’s reasoning, the ‘presidential vacuum’ has confirmed Hezbollah’s growing influence in Lebanon with the Islamist party able to bring parliament to a standstill until demands were met.
Hezbollah currently holds 12 seats in Lebanon’s parliament and- along with Mr. Aoun as an ally- their influence is set to grow.
This is concerning because Hezbollah supports President Bashar Al- Assad and the Syrian regime in their fight against the predominately Sunni rebellion in Syria. It’s a stance Mr. Aoun shares.
However, it is still unclear what President Aoun’s actions will be in regards to the Syrian Conflict.
What is clear is the urgency for Lebanon to have a parliament that is functioning and able to provide solutions to its crippling social issues.
A report by Al Jazeera outlines some of these issues: Polluted streets due to over-flowing landfills, a parliament that lacks transparency and an unemployment rate at 24% with a youth unemployment rate at 45%.
So now the Lebanese people wait and hope that the Aoun-Hariri agreement provides the country with the stability it lacks, but desperately needs.