There is no doubt that the four years that Lebanese President Michel Aoun has spent in power have not been anything close to the people’s expectations. This is especially true for his Christian popular base that had for decades dreamed of his return to the Baabda presidential palace that he was forced to flee in 1990 when he was then head of the transitional government.
The “strong” president, as his supporters like to describe him, has not been able to fulfill the pledges of “reform and change”. He has instead blamed others for “setting up barricades” that have impeded his ambitions.
Aoun was elected president in 2016 after a presidential settlement was struck with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and after an agreement was reached with his rival, Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces. Both agreements had envisaged electing Aoun as president so that he can achieve his “reform” plans.
However, the deal with the LF soon collapsed and the settlement with Hariri floundered last year when he resigned as premier in wake of massive anti-government protests that erupted in October.
Aoun was quick to turn on Hariri, saying he “lost a year and 14 days of my tenure due to the formation of governments that were headed by the PM.”
Hariri was earlier this month designated as prime minister for the fourth time. Aoun’s bloc, the largest in parliament, did not nominate him to the post. Ahead of the parliamentary consultations that eventually led to the naming of the veteran politician, Aoun complained that some sides were “obstructing the realization of vital projects for the country.”
He also vowed that he will “continue to confront everyone who is preventing our people from carrying out reform and building the state.”
Aoun’s latest televised appearance sparked a wave of criticism that called on him to resign if he is unable to achieve anything for the country.
This prompted his supporters to claim that the president already has limited constitutional powers, alleging that local and foreign powers were conspiring against him.
MP of Aoun’s Lebanon Strong bloc, Alain Aoun said: “At the beginning of his term, the president was able to achieve several security achievements by resolving the Arsal outskirts clashes and defeating ISIS in Lebanon.”
“On the financial level, budgets were approved after nearly a decade of disputes. Economically, the Cedre conference was held in April 2018 and Lebanon received international pledges worth 11 billion dollars. Politically, the proportional electoral law was approved, marking a qualitative shift in political life,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The past two years, however, witnessed developments that brought this momentum to a halt, he said, citing political disagreements that led to the squandering of opportunities and several missteps.
He also cited the October 17 revolution and its repercussions, as well as the financial collapse, the country’s isolation and the August 4 blast at Beirut port.
“All of these developments worsened the situation and led us to where we are today,” he explained. “We should not surrender, but invest in the last opportunity that was granted to us in the shape of the French initiative that is aimed at stopping the downward spiral and kicking off Lebanon’s economic recovery.”
The MP noted that Lebanon needed to address several “fundamental problems in its political system”. They demand development and amendments so that the country could become more productive and avoid impasses whenever disputes arise.
This can take place through constitutional amendments related to expanding the president’s authority, he remarked, adding, however, that priority at the moment must be addressing the financial crisis, implementing reforms and restoring local and international trust in Lebanon.
Political science professor Michel Doueihy said that since Aoun’s return to Lebanon from Paris exile in 2005, his behavior and political alliances all sought to build his legislative and executive power.
He had no red lines and qualms about striking alliances with allies of the Syrian regime. His Reform and Change movement soon began to take on the practices of the parties that it had long criticized, namely the Amal movement of Speaker Nabih Berri.
Doueihy told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Aoun’s political failure is part of the failure of the entire political system and authority. The alliance between sectarian parties and banks is what collapsed.”
“Alleging that the president has lost his privileges is unfounded because even though the Taif Accord did diminish them, the president still retains major authority, such as approving government lineups, judicial appointments and others,” he said.