LEBANON: The turbulent administration of Lebanon’s 89-year-old President Michel Aoun, which saw an economic collapse and a deadly blast at a Beirut port, came to an end on Sunday with his departure from the presidential palace.
His departure opens the door to a constitutional crisis because no one is waiting in the wings to become president and no official Cabinet is governing the country.
There have been four unsuccessful attempts to choose his successor, each of which ended with a lack of quorum because either a majority of ballots were put in blank or a quorum was not present. At present, a caretaker cabinet governs Lebanon.
In his final week in the palace, Aoun signed a treaty mediated by the US that defined Lebanon’s southern maritime border with Israel before resigning from his position.
Aoun’s supporters flocked to Baabda Palace to bid him farewell. They carried portraits of him as president and from when he was an army commander decades earlier. They were dressed in the orange of his Free Patriotic Movement party.
One 73-year-old man who was wearing the army uniform while serving under Aoun in the civil war told the journalists that he desired Aoun to serve another three years in office.
Aoun is adored by many Christians who consider him as their guardian in Lebanon’s sectarian system but is accused by others of permitting corruption and assisting the militant group Hezbollah in gaining power.
Aoun won the presidency in 2016 with the help of rival Maronite Christian politician Samir Geagea and the Lebanese Shia party Hezbollah in an agreement that reinstated then-leading Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri as prime minister.
Many Christians at the time welcomed Aoun’s rise to the top position because they saw him as their protector against Lebanon’s sectarian system. However, his reign was marred by scandals and corruption.
During his six-year reign, Hezbollah assisted Lebanon’s troops in battling off jihadist extremists on the Syrian border in 2017, a new electoral law was established in 2018, and top petroleum corporations started exploratory drilling in offshore blocks in 2020.
However, the 2020 Beirut port explosion, which claimed the lives of more than 220 people, was one of the most trying times in his leadership. The 89-year-old later stated that he was aware of the chemical kept in the port and that he had urged officials to take care of it, but his reaction was roundly criticised by those who felt that he should have done more.
In an interview on Saturday, Aoun claimed that the economic problem could not be resolved with his presidential powers alone. A citizen of Lebanon told the media, “He was by far the worst leader Lebanon has ever had. I would rather have the presidency vacant than him.”
One day before Aoun’s term officially ends, he said his exit on Sunday was not the end of his political career.