Lebanese President Michel Aoun leaves office amid crisis | news

President Michel Aoun is leaving office a day earlier than at the end of his six-year term as Parliament failed to agree on his successor.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has vacated the presidential palace without a turn for a successor to replace him as the divided country struggles to recover from a years-long financial crisis.

The 89-year-old Christian leader, who took office in 2016, addressed his supporters on Sunday outside the Baabda presidential palace in Beirut, saying the Middle Eastern country is entering a new “chapter that will require great effort”.

“Without these efforts, we cannot end our suffering. We cannot get our country back on its feet. We cannot save Lebanon from this deep pit,” he told jubilant supporters, leaving a day earlier than when his mandate ended.

The Lebanese parliament has so far failed to agree on who should assume the role – which has the power to sign bills, appoint new prime ministers and give government formations the green light before parliament votes on it.

Lebanon has been governed by an interim cabinet since Prime Minister-elect Najib Mikati has been trying to form a government for the past six months.

“An Unhappy President”

Al Jazeera’s Ali Hashem, reporting from Baabda, said people in the country had “mixed feelings” about Aoun’s six-year rule.

“Michel Aoun supporters say he was an unlucky president. His rivals… say he failed and a big disappointment,” Hashem added.

“The era of Michel Aoun, which ends on Monday, will always be remembered because of the Beirut port explosion in 2020 … and also the financial crisis and protests that began in 2019. These are the main aspects of his legacy.”

The 2020 blast killed more than 220 people and injured about 6,500. About 300,000 houses were damaged or destroyed.

The 2019 financial crisis pushed more than 80 percent of the population into poverty and sparked the most widespread anti-government protests in recent history.

Aoun is a deeply divisive figure, revered by many Christians who saw him as their defender in Lebanon’s sectarian system, but critics have accused him of enabling corruption and helping the Shia armed group Hezbollah gain influence.

Supporters of outgoing Lebanese President Michel Aoun gather to bid him farewell near the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon
Supporters of outgoing Lebanese President Michel Aoun gather to bid farewell to him near the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 30, 2022 [Aziz Taher/Reuters]

He secured the presidency in 2016, backed by Hezbollah and rival Maronite Christian politician Samir Geagea in a deal that brought back then-leading Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri as prime minister.

In his final week at the palace, he signed a US-brokered deal delimiting Lebanon’s southern maritime border with Israel.

The son of a farmer from a suburb of Beirut, Aoun’s path to the presidency began during the 1975-1990 civil war, when he served as commander of the Lebanese army and head of one of the two rival governments.

He returned to Beirut after 15 years in exile after Syrian forces withdrew under international pressure following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005.

In 2006, his Free Patriotic Movement party formed an alliance with Hezbollah, which provided important Christian support to the armed group. In his interview with Reuters, Aoun credited Hezbollah with its “useful” role as a “deterrent” against Israeli attacks during the sea border talks.

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