BEIRUT: Hezbollah has announced that it will back former minister Suleiman Franjieh, a friend and supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as a candidate for the Lebanese presidency.
The announcement on Monday came two days after Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah, announced his support for Franjieh’s nomination.
Frangieh, 56, is heir to a political dynasty whose grandfather of the same name served as president from 1970 into Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.
Lebanon has had no head of state since former president Michel Aoun’s term ended last October, deepening the institutional paralysis in a country facing a mounting economic crisis.
Although Franjieh has the support of Berri’s Amal Movement party, he is highly unlikely to gain the 65 parliamentary votes required for him to be elected.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said on Monday that his team is “committed to the two-thirds quorum in the election of the president in the first and second session.”
A political observer told Arab News that “Hezbollah, Amal Movement and their allies believe that Franjieh is the only de facto candidate and they do not have a plan B, and this matter may throw the country into hell.”
Berri so far has rejected any constitutional amendment that would allow the nomination of army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun for the presidency.
The parliament includes 128 MPs, half of whom are Christian and the other half Muslim, based on the constitution.
MP Qassem Hashem, from the Berri parliamentary bloc, rejected the suggestion that the speaker would call on Parliament to vote shortly, before Ramadan.
However, MP Samy Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Phalange Party, launched a violent attack on Hezbollah, saying: “Lebanon lives in the shadow of a well-armed militia. Lebanon is a hostage, and the Lebanese have to resist this type of occupation.”
Gemayel said that he “will not elect Suleiman Franjieh,” and called on Lebanon’s opposition to unite and confront their common opponent.
Former MP Fares Souaid said that Hezbollah’s support for Franjieh showed the group was ignoring public opinion. “May God protect Lebanon,” he added.
Political observers fear the prolonged presidential vacuum is adding to sectarian tensions in the country.
The International Support Group for Lebanon issued a statement highlighting the risks of institutional paralysis and blaming the Lebanese authorities for delays in concluding an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
The statement urged “political leaders to work in accordance with the constitution and respect the Taif Agreement by electing a new president without further delay.”
Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, also visited the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi to reaffirm the Kingdom’s support for a rescue plan to help the country deal with its crisis.
Walid Ghayad, the patriarch’s media spokesperson, said that “Saudi Arabia, which confirms the need to solve the issue of the presidency, did not interfere in the issue of the names of the candidates, but it supports the election of a president who is not involved in issues of financial or political corruption.”
At the same time, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, tweeted: “State institutions must respond to people’s needs. The current crisis in Lebanon confirms the responsibility of political leaders to activate state institutions and enable them to achieve.”