Hariri declares his support for Aoun’s presidential bid

BEIRUT: Future Movement leader Saad Hariri announced Thursday his support for Free Patriotic Movement founder MP Michel Aoun’s bid for the presidency, paving the way for the former general’s election during the upcoming presidential electoral session scheduled for Oct. 31.

“I know that some of you are not convinced while others are concerned that my decision will affect me on the personal and political level. Yes, it is a political risk but I am ready to sacrifice myself, my popularity and my political career a thousand times in order to protect you,” Hariri told his supporters via a televised speech from his residence in downtown Beirut.

Hariri was referring to opposition within the ranks of his parliamentary bloc to his unpopular decision within the Sunni community to back Aoun’s election.

The alternative to Aoun’s election, Hariri warned, is complete vacuum and the collapse of the state.

“Has anyone thought of what might happen when parliamentary elections take place and the Cabinet enters caretaker mode in line with the constitution and in the absence of a president who can designate a prime minister to form a new Cabinet?” Hariri asked in reference to the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in 2017.

“And what would happen if the absolute majority of the newly elected parliament refuses to elect a speaker before electing a president? What would happen to the country without a head of state, a prime minister and a speaker? What would happen to the state, institutions, the economy, security and the people?” he added in an attempt to justify his new political alignment.

Hariri, who along with Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt, had previously endorsed MP Suleiman Franjieh for the presidency, decided to withdraw his support for the Marada Movement leader in favor of Aoun after his earlier initiative failed to break the political deadlock.

Berri, on their other hand, remains steadfast in his support for Franjieh and has publicly voiced his opposition to Aoun’s election.

Berri had previously tied the election of a president to a comprehensive political deal that includes an agreement over a new parliamentary electoral system, the makeup of the upcoming Cabinet and the distribution of ministerial portfolios. Berri’s ‘package deal’ was opposed by the FPM, the Lebanese Forces and the Maronite patriarch, who argued that it was in violation of the constitution and puts constraints on the president.

Aoun’s powerful Shiite ally, Hezbollah, had encouraged the former general to seek an agreement with Berri. However, It remains to be seen whether Aoun, with the support of Hezbollah, will succeed in bridging the gap with Berri ahead of the upcoming presidential electoral session.

That said, Aoun is expected to secure a majority in parliament even if Berri’s parliamentary bloc decides to cast ballots in favor of Franjieh.

Franjieh’s nomination by Hariri almost a year ago prompted LF leader Samir Geagea, the former March 14 presidential candidate, to withdraw from the race and endorse Aoun for presidency.

Geagea’s position represented a turning point the course of the presidential elections, eventually leading Hariri, an ally of Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia to follow suit and endorse Aoun, a key supporter of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group.