| Reuters BEIRUT
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri endorsed Michel Aoun
for the vacant presidency,
an opponent of the Iran-backed Shi'ite group Hezbollah, Hariri would
become prime minister again under the plan that could reshape Lebanese
politics. It has drawn opposition in his party and a final decision has
not yet been taken, allies said.
presidency, which is reserved for a Maronite Christian in the country's
sectarian power-sharing arrangements, has been vacant for 2 1/2 years
due to political conflicts. Aoun, a veteran politician in his 80s, has
long coveted the post.
It was not immediately clear if
Aoun's candidacy would enjoy enough support among other politicians to
secure the necessary two-thirds quorum for the vote in the 128-seat
The next scheduled parliamentary session to elect a president is set for Oct. 31.
of Aoun's candidacy include Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, head of the
Shi'ite Amal Movement and a close ally of Hezbollah, which itself has
yet to comment.
46, led the "March 14" alliance against Hezbollah and its allies, after
the 2005 assassination of his father Rafik al-Hariri. He remains a
fierce critic of Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria in support of
President Bashar al-Assad.
proposal, unthinkable until recently, casts new light on the
predicament facing Hariri, whose standing as Lebanon's most influential
Sunni politician has been shaken by a financial crisis at his
Saudi-based construction business.
troubles at Saudi Oger, which has been hit by falling oil prices and
cuts in Saudi state spending, have led to a cash crunch in Hariri's
say Hariri has fallen from favor in Saudi Arabia, which these days
cares far more about confronting Iranian influence in the Gulf and Syria
than about Lebanon.
OPPOSITION FROM WITHIN
politicians told Reuters that Hariri had expressed his intention to
nominate Aoun for the presidency as part of the power-sharing deal.
third source, a member of Hariri's Future Movement, confirmed Hariri
had expressed this intention, but members of his own parliamentary bloc
Siniora, a former prime minister and head of the Future Movement's
parliamentary bloc, told the newspaper Daily Star that Hariri had told
his MPs on Tuesday that he had decided to support Aoun's candidacy.
The current government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam has been paralyzed by rivalries exacerbated by regional conflict.
Hariri became prime minister for the
first time in 2009, but his cabinet was toppled in 2011 when Hezbollah
and its allies resigned. Since then, he spent most of his time abroad.
Last year, he nominated Hezbollah ally Suleiman Franjieh for the presidency, but Hezbollah stuck by Aoun.
a former army commander, heads the largest Christian bloc in parliament
and has a large following in the divided Christian community. He has
been a political ally of Hezbollah since 2006.
significant figure in Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, Aoun led one of two
rival governments during the final years of the conflict. In 1990, the
Syrian army forced him into exile.
He returned in 2005 after Syrian forces withdrew under international pressure following the Hariri assassination.
Aoun's main Christian rival, wartime enemy Samir Geagea, earlier this year also endorsed Aoun's candidacy.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam Editing by Tom Heneghan)