Lebanon's political vacuum finally filled

After two and a half years without a President, Michel Aoun has taken office but the real test is yet to come

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Lebanon's political vacuum finally filled

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In Lebanon, a political vacuum has been dragging on for two and a half years. On April 23, 2014 the Lebanese Parliament failed to elect a president to replace Michel Suleiman, whose term was ending on 25th May that year.
Presidential hopeful, Maronite Samir Geagea, did not manage to get enough seats for the required two-thirds majority.

According to the inter-community power-sharing system the President of the Republic must be a Maronite Christian; the parliamentary chairman a Shiite and the prime minister a Sunni.

45th time lucky

In order just to hold the vote, the Lebanese parliament tried unsuccessfully 45 times to reach the required quorum of 86 out of 128 deputies. Each time 20 Aoun and 13 Hezbollah MPs boycotted the sessions.

The waste crisis

Lebanon was plunged into political crisis and institutional paralysis which had a knock on effect on basic services like waste disposal. Rubbish along with public anger had been building up since March.

An end in sight

The deadlock began to ease last January when Michel Aoun was given the support of his rival and fellow Maronite, Samir Geagea.

It was Saad Hariri’s announcement on 20th October that he too would back Aoun, which really put an end to the deadlock in sight. Hariri is the Sunni leader of the March 14 Alliance, a group that strongly opposes the Syrian regime, and has support from Saudi Arabia.

On the other side of the political divide, Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the powerful pro-Assad and pro-Iran Hezbollah, also gave the green light to Aoun on 23rd October.

But which side won by backing Aoun as President? Nabil Boumensef, from the An-Nahar newspaper offered his insight explaining: “Lebanon is no longer a priority for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia no longer backs its allies in Lebanon, which has led to the weakening of its main ally in Lebanon – former Prime Minister Hariri.”

Analysts generally agree that the real test for Lebanon has yet to come. The president’s power is, after all, relatively weakened.

While speculation about the effect of the presidency on Lebanon’s relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia abounds, many Lebanese citizens simply hope for some political stability and progress on issues that affect their lives. The speed with which the new Government is formed will be a more reliable indication that the “status quo” has finally come to an end.