BEIRUT — Lebanon’s former prime minister Saad al-Hariri saidhe would back Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun to become president, a step that may help resolve the country’s political deadlock.
“This decision comes from the need to protect Lebanon and the state and the people … but it is a decision that depends on agreement,” he said in a speech, describing Aoun as “the only option left”.
Lebanon has endured a protracted political crisis since parliament failed to elect a new president more than two years ago, paralyzing government, causing a breakdown in many basic services and reviving fears of a slide back toward civil war.
However, Aoun will still face big obstacles toward his election as president by the country’s parliament, including opposition from parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, leader of the Shi’a Amal movement, also an ally of Hezbollah.
Four prominent members of Hariri’s Future Movement bloc in parliament, including former prime minister Fouad Siniora, told reporters they would not vote for Aoun. Telecom Minister Boutros Harb, an ally of Hariri’s from a different party, said the same.
Still, the endorsement by Hariri, Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician, represents an important step toward breaking the prolonged standoff between Lebanon’s political leaders.
Hariri hopes to become prime minister again if Aoun becomes president. Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful political player, released a statement welcoming moves to fill the presidency.
Parliament will convene onfor a session to elect the president, the 46th such sitting since the term of the last president, Michel Suleiman, expired in 2014, each of which failed to gain the two-thirds quorum needed for a vote.
Under Lebanon’s power-sharing arrangement among its main sects, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian, the premiership for a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament for a Shi’a Muslim.
The last parliamentary election took place in 2009 and later scheduled ones were postponed because of a failure by the sitting parliament to agree on a new electoral law.
Aoun, a former army commander in his 80s, led one of two rival governments during Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war before the Syrian army forced him into exile. During that time, he was allied with Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. He returned to Lebanon in 2005 after Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon, but forged a political partnership with Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian government.
His main Christian rival for the presidency, Samir Geagea, also endorsed him earlier this year.