Parliament elects new president, ending vacuum
BEIRUT (AP): LEBANON’S PARLIAMENT yesterday elected Michel Aoun, an 81-year-old former army commander and strong ally of the militant group Hezbollah, as the country’s president, ending a more than two-year vacuum in the top post and a political crisis that brought state institutions perilously close to collapse.
Aoun secured a simple majority of votes in the house after a chaotic session that saw several rounds of voting because extra ballots appeared in the ballot box each time. He garnered 83 votes out of 127 lawmakers present at the session.
He had been widely expected to achieve a two thirds majority in the first round, but failed by two votes.
Members of parliament broke out in applause after Aoun was finally declared president by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. His supporters across the country erupted in cheers as they watched the proceedings on huge screens set up in the streets. Brief celebratory gunfire could also be heard in the capital.
“We’ve got a president today who will take care of all the Lebanese, all of Lebanon, not just one faction,” said Khalil Shukr, a 21-year-old Aoun supporter wearing a yellow Tshirt, the colour of the Hezbollah flag.
“I’m with Hezbollah, and my hand is with Hezbollah, and we are with Aoun,” added Shukr, standing among a crowd gathered at the Mar Yousef church in Aoun’s childhood town, Haret Hreik, now a crowded Beirut suburb dominated by Hezbollah.
Aoun’s election is seen by many as a clear victory for the pro-Iranian axis in the Middle East, giving a boost to Hezbollah and the Shiite Lebanese group’s ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad. The election came at a time of great regional upheaval, especially in neighbouring Syria, where the civil war has repeatedly spilled over into Lebanon.