BEIRUT- Lebanon’s 30-month presidential vacuum was filled at last Monday afternoon, when parliament voted to elect 81-year-old Free Patriotic Movement founder Gen. Michel Aoun head of the republic in a dramatic fourth round of voting following an inconclusive first round and technical irregularities in two subsequent rounds.
Parliament erupted in applause as a sixty-fifth vote came in for Aoun shortly before 2 p.m., securing him the necessary half-plus-one target. Within seconds, deafening roars of celebratory gunshots and fireworks engulfed Beirut and other regions of the country.
After a short congratulatory speech from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, President-elect Aoun took to the parliament podium to deliver the constitutional oath and a speech of his own, outlining a vision of political and socioeconomic reform. The occasionally rowdy parliament session had seen protest votes for nominees including model and pop artist Myriam Klink; MP Strida Tawq, the wife of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea; ‘Zorba the Greek;’ and ‘The Cedar Revolution in the Service of Lebanon’ (a reference to the 2005 uprisings against Syria’s military occupation of Lebanon).
A dream 26 years in the making
A national figure since the latter years of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, then-Army Commander Gen. Michel Aoun was appointed in 1988 to lead a temporary cabinet at the end of President Amin Gemayel’s term. Tasked with overseeing government until a new president could be elected, Aoun instead moved himself into the presidential palace in Baabda, denouncing the political class as corrupt traitors and declaring war on both the rival Lebanese Forces militia and the occupying Syrian army.
His stint in Baabda came to an end on 13 October, 1990, when the Syrians – with an American green light – launched an all-out air and ground offensive on the presidential palace, reducing much of it to rubble. Despite vowing the previous day to fight to the death, Aoun in fact made a swift escape to the French embassy, where he remained for months before being allowed to take up exile in France.
Thus began a 26-year-long quest to return to Baabda, which has seen Aoun, variously, abandon his wartime alliance with Saddam Hussein and cheerlead for the George W. Bush administration’s War on Terror (in the hopes, as he testified to Congress in 2003, that it would lead to Lebanon’s liberation from Syria), only to dramatically reverse course once again and join the anti-American ‘Resistance Axis,’ signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah in 2006 and traveling to Tehran and Damascus soon afterward.
In the end, it was this alliance with Hezbollah that brought the presidency back within his reach. When President Michel Sleiman’s term ended in May 2014, Hezbollah formally nominated Aoun as their candidate, and joined 'The General,' as he's known, in a boycott of parliamentary election sessions that would endure until enough votes were secured from rival blocs to ensure Aoun’s victory. That day arrived Monday – after two and a half years of vacuum – following the surprise backing of Aoun by former foes Samir Geagea in January and Future Movement head Saad Hariri earlier this month.
Aoun’s presidential term is set by the constitution at six years. Hariri is widely expected to be appointed prime minister in a new cabinet to be formed imminently.