Ex-army head Aoun tipped for Lebanon presidency


Beirut (AFP)

Lebanon's powerful ex-premier Saad Hariri is expected to endorse Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun for president, a post that has been vacant for almost 30 months, a senior politician said Wednesday.

Lebanon has been without a president since May 2014 when the mandate of Michel Sleiman expired, amid deep rivalries among Christian and Muslim politicians exacerbated by the conflict in Syria.

Since then parliament, which has twice extended its mandate, has met on 45 occasions to elect a president but deep rivalries and disagreements saw most deputies boycot the sessions.

The assembly is due to convene next week for the 46th time amid high expectations that a president will be elected and that the job will go to Aoun, a Maronite Christian and former army commander.

"Since Hariri has decided to endorse him, and save any last minute change, Michel Aoun will be elected by parliament on October 30," said the senior politician, who declined to be named.

Hariri, a former Sunni Muslim prime minister whose party belongs to a Western and Saudi-backed political bloc, had fiercely opposed Aoun's candidacy.

Aoun is allied with the Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and has dispatched fighters to neighbouring Syria to bolster the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

On Wednesday Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah, said that Hariri had informed his political bloc and his allies of his decision to endorse Aoun.

"All that's left is to officially announce it," added Al-Akhbar.

Aged 81, the ex-general Aoun is a controversial figure.

He served as head of the armed forces and briefly as prime minister during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war and was then a staunch opponent of Syrian military presence in Lebanon.

But he shocked many by brokering an alliance with Hezbollah in 2006, a year after his return home from exile in France and after Syria pulled its troops from Lebanon.

According to a source close to Hariri, the ex-prime minister struck a deal with Aoun to endorse him in exchange for his return as premier.

Lebanon's president is elected by parliament, and the post is always reserved for a Maronite Christian under a power-sharing agreement.

The post of prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim, while the speaker of the parliament is a Shiite Muslim.