(BEIRUT) – Lebanon’s parliament elected former General Michel Aoun as president Monday, after a 29-month vacuum plunged the country into a political crisis and left citizens questioning the effectiveness of their government.
The 81-year-old Aoun secured 83 votes in the 128-seat chamber, giving him a majority to prevail against opponent Suleiman Franjieh, a fellow Maronite Christian.
Fireworks echoed across Beirut after the results were announced in a television broadcast from parliament. In his acceptance speech, Aoun called for the establishment of fair electoral law, and the implementation of the Taif accord to normalize Lebanese institutions.
In an unlikely agreement, Aoun was backed by many of his March 8 allies and former enemies, including Sunni leader and former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, a March 14 ally.
Under the agreement with Aoun, Hariri, whose business in Saudi Arabia is struggling, will likely become the country’s next prime minister.
Hariri said the endorsement came after he had exhausted all other options and was intended “to preserve the political system, reinforce the state, relaunch the economy and distance us from the Syrian crisis.
The unforeseen endorsements of Hariri, wartime enemies Samir Geagea, a rival Christian, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, gave Aoun enough votes to secure the race.
But Aoun had powerful adversaries opposed to his election, including Parliament Speaker and Shi’ite leader Nabih Berri.
Aoun notoriously led a “war of liberation” against the Syrian army in Lebanon in 1989-90, but reconciled with the Syrian leadership in 2005 after Syria pulled out of Lebanon.
He has been a strong supporter of Hezbollah’s involvement on the side of Assad in the neighboring country’s civil war, now in its sixth year.
“Aoun’s election is a clear victory for the pro-Iranian axis in the Levant and another climb down for Saudi Arabia,” wrote Paul Salem, vice president for policy and research at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Sleiman stepped down at the end of his term in May 2014, without an agreement on a replacement.
Aoun has been a running candidate from the beginning, and has refused to stand down in favor of other candidates. Parliament has met more than 40 times since then, each time failing to elect a president because of a lack of quorum.
Many Lebanese citizens hope the election will reactivate the country’s political institutions and parliamentary restrains, which have been paralyzed by the crisis. The crisis has forced parliament to extend its own term twice, with the current one running until May 2017.
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