“President Aoun” is looking more likely

Lebanon took another step toward getting a new president over the weekend. After initially appearing oddly non-committal about his candidacy, Hezbollah–via its leader, Hassan Nasrallah–announced on Sunday that its members of parliament would vote for Michel Aoun in a presidential election that is likely to take place next Monday. Hezbollah and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement are allies in the March 8 parliamentary coalition, and there was never any real question that Hezbollah would support him. Nasrallah’s endorsement should carry considerable sway among the other parties in the bloc, which is good news for Aoun because at last glance he was still trying to shore up his support with those guys. Now, with Aoun already having banked the endorsement of Saad al-Hariri, of the rival March 14 coalition, it seems clear that, while he may not be a lock to become Lebanon’s next president, Aoun is the likeliest candidate the country has had since Michel Suleiman’s term ended two years ago.

As expected, the deal Hariri cut to endorse Aoun includes the condition that Aoun appoint Hariri as Lebanon’s new Prime Minister, a condition that Hezbollah is also going along with despite the fact that they and the Hariris don’t exactly get along. Hariri, who has seen his own political fortunes declining as his Saudi patrons have pulled away from both him and Lebanon more broadly, clearly saw this move as a way to thrust himself back into the political spotlight and hopefully give himself time to reestablish his power within the March 14 coalition. Aoun, being Hezbollah’s guy, is also Iran’s guy–Iranian officials have expressed their preference for Aoun’s election–and it appears that’s the basis on which the opposition to Aoun’s candidacy will attack him.

That opposition has two ways to prevent Aoun from becoming the next president. One, obviously, involves getting more votes against him than for him, but that seems unlikely. The other is to convince enough legislators to stay home to ensure that there is no 2/3 parliamentary quorum, thereby invalidating any vote. That possibility is more likely–it’s the tool by which every other attempt to elect a new president over the past two years has been defeated. But with gridlock fatigue surely running high, and with Aoun having bagged these two major endorsements, the odds are probably in favor of him being elected next week. Stay tuned.


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