Hezbollah publicly declares support for Suleiman Frangieh in Lebanese presidential race

Mr Frangieh is a close ally of Syria's Bashar Al Assad

Suleiman Frangieh has backing from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, but the two parties do not hold enough parliamentary seats on their own to propel him to power. Reuters
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Iran-backed Hezbollah has publicly declared its backing for Suleiman Frangieh, a close ally of Syria's Bashar Al Assad, in the race to become Lebanon's next president.

It was widely believed that the powerful Lebanese armed group and political party backed Mr Frangieh, but the comments on Monday mark Hezbollah's strongest show of support so far.

“The natural candidate we support in the presidential elections is Suleiman Frangieh,” said Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah in a televised speech.

Mr Frangieh, 56, comes from a prominent Christian political family. In Lebanon's confessional system, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian, the speaker of parliament must be a Shiite Muslim, and the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim.

Mr Nasrallah comments follow those from its Shiite ally the Amal Movement last week. The latter's leader, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, also declared his support.

The public backing from the Shiite duo is significant, but the two parties do not hold enough parliamentary seats on their own to propel Mr Frangieh to power.

Lebanon has been without a president since the end of October when ex-army chief Michel Aoun stepped down at the end of his term. The cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati is in a caretaker status and thus severely stripped of its powers as the country grapples with one of the worst economic crises in modern history.

In the first round of voting, a two-thirds majority — or 86 seats ― in the deeply fractured 128-seat parliament is required. Only an absolute majority is needed in subsequent polls.

MPs have held 11 sessions thus far, but come nowhere near finding Mr Aoun's successor.

MP Michel Moawad has received support from about a third of MPs, mainly from those deeply opposed to Hezbollah. Both Mr Moawad and Mr Frangieh are from the town of Zgharta in northern Lebanon.

Hezbollah's main Christian ally is the Free Patriotic Movement, which was founded by Mr Aoun and is now led by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who is believed to harbour presidential ambitions for himself.

But that FPM-Hezbollah relationship has cooled in recent months over, among other factors, the latter's apparent support for Mr Frangieh and not Mr Bassil.

According to Mr. Nasrallah, the FPM-Hezbollah alliance does not require either party to elect a president that is favoured by the other.

Updated: March 06, 2023, 5:26 PM