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Sun 19 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Michel Aoun scores huge upset

SURPRISING most Lebanese, general Michel Aoun, the controversial army figure who spent the last 15 years in exile before returning to Lebanon on May 7, scored a resounding victory in the country’s third week of parliamentary elections.

SURPRISING most Lebanese, general Michel Aoun, the controversial army figure who spent the last 15 years in exile before returning to Lebanon on May 7, scored a resounding victory in the country’s third week of parliamentary elections.

Of the 128 seats in parliament, 56 seats were up for grabs on June 12, in addition to the two seats already won by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Marwan Hamadeh. Aoun and his allies clinched 21 of those seats.

Aoun, whom Arabian Business interviewed on the eve of the election, prides himself on having a political programme unlike his opponents in the Lebanese opposition and his refusal to subscribe to the country's confessional political system.

Forty-two MPs have already been elected in the first two rounds, with Saad Hariri, son of slain the former premier Rafik Hariri winning all of Beirut’s 19 seats. In southern Lebanon Hezbollah and Amal had a clean sweep taking the region’s 23 seats.

“In the end the Lebanese people were reacting against the disdainful way in which Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri essentially cut a deal with Nabih Berri and Hezbollah behind the Christians’ back to protect themselves in a future parliament. When the Christians came and said ‘what about us’, they said ‘OK we will give you some seats’,” Lebanese commentator Michael Young told Arabian Business.

“This was perceived as being very insulting by the Christians who felt it’s not up to them to beg for seats — that they represent the political reality and have been ignored for the past 15 years and this was their way of reacting. The short-sightedness of Jumblatt and absolute arrogance of both [Jumblatt and Hariri] on this issue meant that they pushed the Christians into the hands of Michel Aoun,” added Young.

The former 70-year-old army general made a clean sweep in the largely Christian Kesrouan-Jbeil, Metn and Zahle and beat rival Maronite and key opposition figures, most notably Nassib Lahoud and Fares Soueid, who Jumblatt would have liked to see as a replacement for president Emile Lahoud. Aoun’s victory makes it all the more difficult now for the opposition coalition, made up of Saad Hariri, Hezbollah, Amal and Jumblatt, to form a majority in parliament.

The Maronite Christian general fell out with the opposition in the run up to the elections because of a dispute over the number of seats in parliament and is likely to flex his muscles once the elections are over on June 19. Though Jumblatt was dealt a blow in the third round of election he essentially achieved what he set out to by winning in the Chouf Mountains and Baabda-Aley. But Aoun’s victory has, in Young’s estimation, demolished Jumblatt’s plans to remove Emile Lahoud.

“That plan has been dealt a severe blow. It was a message to Walid Jumblatt and also to Saad Hariri that it’s not up to them anymore to decide politics in the Christian community,” explained Young.

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