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Explainer: Four contenders vying to become Lebanon's next president

Hezbollah recently threw its support behind Suleiman Frangieh, but it could settle for a compromise candidate. Only some of those seeking the office oppose the Iran-backed group’s influence in the country.
Lebanese security forces stand guard outside the parliament building in downtown Beirut as members of parliament gather to elect the new Lebanese president on April 23, 2014. Lebanon's parliament failed to elect a new president, with no candidate securing the two-thirds of the vote needed to win and many lawmakers leaving their ballots blank. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images)

Lebanese President Michel Aoun left office last October, finishing a six-year term that saw a deepening political divide and a worsening economic crisis. Since Aoun's departure, the Lebanese parliament has convened — and failed — more than 10 times to elect a new president.

The position under Lebanon's sectarian system is held by a Maronite Christian, and the ongoing void is exacerbating Lebanon’s political instability and economic crisis. 

According to the Lebanese constitution, the 128-member legislature requires a majority of two-thirds (85) to elect a president in the first round, and then in the second round, a candidate can be elected by a simple majority of 65 lawmakers. 

As the chamber continues to deliberate on the issue in effort to get to the 85 votes, here is a breakdown of the top four who have emerged as the leading potential successors to Aoun:

Suleiman Frangieh

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political party and militia, threw its backing behind Suleiman Frangieh's presidential bid on Monday.

"The natural candidate we support in the presidential elections is minister Suleiman Frangieh," Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

Frangieh, 56, a former member of parliament and leader of the pro-Syria Christian political party Marada, hails from a political dynasty in northern Lebanon. His grandfather and namesake was president from 1970 to 1976. The Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975 and lasted 15 years. 

The grandson and Hezbollah-backed candidate is a close personal friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, having spent time in Syria during the Lebanese civil war. His father, mother and sister were assassinated in 1978, which prompted the move to Syria. 

Frangieh also has the support of House Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal party, a close ally of Hezbollah. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati also endorsed Frangieh for president in November. But even with those and Hezbollah, Frangieh is currently short of the 65 seats, as he lacks support from the major Christian parties, the Lebanese Forces (LF), the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), and the Phalangists. 

Hanin Ghaddar, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Hezbollah’s strategy is not necessarily to get Frangieh into the presidency. The group could be bargaining and ultimately settle for a compromise candidate under certain conditions. 

“This is more of a negotiation technique,” Ghaddar told Al-Monitor. “Hezbollah wants a consensus president to make sure this person gives them certain guarantees.” 

Ghaddar said Hezbollah’s main goals are ensuring the president will allow Hezbollah to retain control over their weapons, military operations and territories. 

Hezbollah may also settle for a president they did not nominate so as to avoid blame for Lebanon’s situation, she said. Aoun was elected in 2016 with support from Hezbollah, and in turn “Hezbollah got all the blame for bringing him as president and bringing the collapse of the country,” said Ghaddar. “They don’t want to be blamed anymore."

Gen. Joseph Aoun

Gen. Joseph Aoun (no relation to the former president) is the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Unlike Frangieh, he enjoys some support from the United States, the Gulf and France. 

Washington and Paris have shied away from supporting any candidate publicly, but the army is seen as a pillar of stability in Lebanon amid the worst economic crisis in Lebanese history. 

But for Gen. Aoun, 59, to be elected, a vote on a constitutional amendment is required in the parliament, since the Lebanese constitution does not allow for a candidate to be an operational army officer. As Al-Monitor reported, Lebanon has elected four army commanders to the presidency in the past, starting with Fouad Chehab in 1958, mainly Emile Lahoud (1998-2007), Michel Sulieman (2008-2014) and Michel Aoun (2016-2022).

Gen. Aoun gave a fiery speech on Tuesday defending the armed forces against “fabricated rumors” and accusations of corruption, the Lebanese news outlet Naharnet reported. The Lebanese news outlet LBCI described the speech as “presidential.” 

Gebran Bassil 

A third name circulating for the presidency is Gebran Bassil, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement and is the son-in-law of former President Michel Aoun. Bassil is also close to Hezbollah, but has yet to announce his candidacy. 

Bassil, 52, is a divisive figure in Lebanese politics and does not have enough support outside the FPM. In 2020, he was sanctioned by the US government under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets human rights abuses and corruption. He denies the corruption allegations. 

Former President Aoun could maintain influence should Bassil become president. 

"I cannot hide my closeness to the head of state and his paternal role in relation to me politically. But in general, it is the son who listens to his father and not the other way around,” Bassil told the Lebanese news outlet L’Orient Today in 2020.

Reuters reported in November that Bassil was seeking a compromise candidate but leaving the door open for a presidential bid of his own. 

Michel Moawad

Moawad is currently a member of parliament and declared his candidacy for presidency last year. He is the son of former President Rene Moawad, who was assassinated in office in 1989 just 17 days after taking office.

Moawad, 50, has considerable support from the US, according to Ghaddar, who pointed out that the Rene Moawad Foundation, a philanthropic organization, is based in Washington. 

Moawad met with US ambassador Dorothy Shea earlier this month. He told the diplomat that he will not accept a president who is “an extension of the resistance axis,” referring to Hezbollah, LBCI reported. 

Hezbollah adamantly opposes Moawad, and the parliament member has criticized them. “The state does not have the monopoly on arms, where the strategic decisions are taken today by Hezbollah,” Moawad told The National in February. 

Know more: Someone out of the pool of four (Moawad, Bassil, Aoun and Frangieh) could emerge in the twists and turns of Lebanese politics and become president. Former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, an independent, has also been floated as a potential next president by Lebanese media, but he has not had enough backing from the political establishment. 

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