Michel Aoun, the popular former Lebanese army chief, has been elected president of Lebanon, ending a presidential vacancy of more than two years. Aoun, 81 years old, secured the presidency by winning the support of 83 MPs, well above the absolute majority of 65 needed to win. Fireworks echoed across Beirut as the tally showed Aoun the winner. The Lebanese presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian in the country’s sectarian power-sharing system.
The political situation turned in Aoun’s favour earlier this month when Saad Hariri, the former prime minister and political Sunni leader who heads the largest bloc in parliament, said he would support Aoun for president. Hariri´s decision to endorse Aoun marked a major political concession for Lebanon which may be seen as a signal to the whole Middle East.
The reason why Saad Hariri all of a sudden chose to support the candidacy of Michel Aoun for president is that his bet on the collapse of the Syrian government proved wrong.
Hariri was out of power for too long and during this time internal support for him eroded while he almost lost the favour of the Saudis which was reflected in his businesses and companies there. As Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, general secretary of Lebanese Hezbullah, set a condition that Hariri could be prime minister again only if Michel Aoun would be elected as president of the republic, and as Hariri needed to be back as head of government to reinforce his position as a leader of the Sunnis which would also enable him to win the Saudis‘ favour again – under such conditions he was willing opt for this compromise.
Of course people are talking of a tacit American-Iranian deal over this compromise, awaiting clarification of the Syrian situation. Internally, this development will appease the tension but will not solve the structural problems that Lebanon suffers from and we need to wait for a few years from now for a new regional order to be established and hence a new balance of power in Lebanon would emerge.
But what to expect from Aoun´s foreign policy? He is perhaps the first Lebanese president in a long time who is really seen as a proper “commander” and populist leader. A president Aoun could be a strong negotiator for Middle Eastern interests in relation to his European counterparts.