Possible candidates in lebanon's presidential race

Beirut: Following is a list in alphabetical order of possible contenders in the 2014 Lebanon Presidential Election.

Michel Aoun

Aoun has emerged as one of March 8’s strongest candidates. The leader of the Free Patriotic Movement also heads the Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, the largest group of Christian MPs.

Aoun has always said that the president should be representative of the majority of Christians in the country.

Born in the southern Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik on Feb. 18, 1935, Aoun was appointed an Army commander in 1984.

Aoun headed a military transitional government between 1988 and 1990, during which he launched two deadly wars against the Syrian army in Lebanon and the Lebanese Forces militia. He championed calls for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon during his exile in France between 1991 and 2005.

However, his relations with Damascus improved upon his return to Lebanon in May 2005, just one month after Syria’s withdrawal. Aoun then forged a key alliance in 2006 with Hezbollah, Syria’s main ally in the country. When the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, Aoun announced his support for the war on

terror there. The FPM leader has said that if he is elected president, he would support Hezbollah keeping its arms until a permanent settlement for the Middle East conflict is reached.

Aoun’s ties with the Future Movement, his fierce rival, have improved recently, with the FPM leader even meeting former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Rome in January. Many explained the sudden thaw in relations as an attempt by Aoun to win Hariri’s support for his presidency bid. Aoun has also mended fences with Saudi Arabia recently.

Ziyad Baroud

Baroud is one of the possible consensus presidential candidates.

Young and dynamic, Baroud enjoys wide popularity. Many Lebanese have called on the former minister to run for parliamentary and presidential elections in the belief that he could be part of a new generation of politicians to enact reform in the country.

He was born in his Kesrouan village of Jeita on April 29, 1970, and holds a law degree from Universite Saint Joseph.

He is an active member of a number of civil society groups, was involved in several non-governmental organizations advocating electoral reform and is a legal adviser for a number of international organizations in Lebanon.

He served as an interior minister from July 2008 until January 2011 in the Cabinets of former prime ministers Fouad Siniora and Saad Hariri.

Between 1997 and 2005, Baroud was a member of a committee tasked with modernizing national laws chaired by former ministers Bahij Tabbara and Khaled Qabbani.

Although selected by President Michel Sleiman for the Interior Ministry post, Baroud is not affiliated with any of the political parties in Lebanon. During his term as an interior minister, the ministry held parliamentary elections in 2009 and municipal elections the following year.

Baroud was a member of the so-called Butros Commission, tasked by the Cabinet in 2005 with putting together a draft election law. The committee, bearing the name of its head, former Minister Fouad Butros, eventually proposed a draft law combining proportional representation with a winner-take-all system in 2006.

Suleiman Frangieh

A member of a prominent Maronite family from the north that has been working in politics ever since Lebanon’s independence, Frangieh is touted as a potential candidate every time there is an election.

His grandfather, late President Sleiman Frangieh, laid the foundations of the Frangieh family’s relationship with Syria’s Assad family in the 1950s, and Frangieh is a staunch ally of President Bashar Assad to this day.

Although Frangieh was never elected president while Lebanon was under Syria’s control between 1990 and 2005, the MP is seen as a possible presidential candidate from the March 8 coalition.

Hailing from the northern village of Zghorta, Frangieh was born in the city of Tripoli in Oct. 18, 1965.

He is the son of late Minister Tony Frangieh, who a Lebanese Forces squad murdered along with Sleiman’s mother and sister in June 1978. Since then, Frangieh has severed ties with the group, which is now a political party headed by Samir Geagea.

Frangieh, chief of the Marada Movement, also heads a parliamentary bloc with two other Zghorta lawmakers.

He held several ministerial posts between 1990 and 2005 and served as an MP between 1992 and 2005 and from 2009 until now.

In a recent interview, Frangieh said he would support Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun for the presidential election, saying he would not act regarding the poll without coordinating with Aoun.

In separate remarks, Frangieh also said that if circumstances favored the election of Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, then he would not oppose it.

Amine Gemayel

Lebanon’s president from 1982 to 1988, Gemayel remains a potential presidential candidate for the March 14 coalition.

Gemayel comes from a well-known Maronite family hailing from the Metn village of Bikfaya.

Gemayel heads a parliamentary bloc comprising five MPs and is a popular Christian leader in the country. He is also the leader of the Kataeb Party.

The former president was among the founders of the March 14 coalition in 2005 and is a fierce critic of Hezbollah’s arsenal. Gemayel calls for restricting the possession of arms to the authority of the state.

He is the son of late MP and Minister Pierre Gemayel, who founded the Kataeb in 1936.

The party emerged as the strongest Christian group in Lebanon in the following decades and led the Christian community, especially during the 1975-1990 Civil War.

The Kataeb argues that it was the main protector for Christians during the Civil War against threats posed by armed groups belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon along with Syrian troops.

Born Jan. 22, 1942 in Bikfaya, Gemayel holds a law degree from Universite Saint Joseph.

He ran in the parliamentary by-elections in 1970 and won. He became an MP again in 1972. Gemayel remained a lawmaker until 1982, the year he was elected president following the assassination of his brother, President-elect Bachir Gemayel.

Shortly after his term expired in 1988, Gemayel traveled to France, where he stayed until 2000, at which point he returned to Lebanon.

In 2007, Gemayel assumed the leadership of the Kataeb.

Robert Ghanem

Ghanem announced his candidacy for the election in 2004 and 2007.

In 2005 and 2009, the Western Bekaa MP ran for parliamentary elections alongside the March 14 coalition. However, Ghanem does not share March 14 officials’ fierce rhetoric against their March 8 rivals, particularly Hezbollah. This factor could possibly help him win a consensus as a presidential candidate.

During the series of political crises Lebanon witnessed since 2005, Ghanem maintained relations with a number of March 8 officials, including Speaker Nabih Berri – a key figure in the coalition and the head of Hezbollah-ally party the Amal Movement.

Born on June 18, 1942, in the Western Bekaa village of Saghbin, Ghanem holds a degree in law from Universite Saint Joseph. He is the son of late Army Commander Gen. Iskandar Ghanem.

In 1978, Ghanem left to France due to the deteriorating security situation as a result of the 1975-90 Civil War. He practiced law there and returned to Lebanon in 1992, two years after the war ended.

He has been an MP since 1992 and served as a minister of education and sports and youth in the government of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 1995.

Ghanem is currently serving as the head of Parliament’s Administration and Justice Committee.

He has worked to draft and put forth a number of laws and has attended several parliamentary conferences outside Lebanon in the past years. Ghanem also served as a member of various parliamentary committees.

Samir Geagea

Geagea is one of March’s 14 strongest potential candidates. A staunch critic of Hezbollah, its March 8 allies and the Syrian regime, Geagea has said that he would run in the presidential election if circumstances were suitable and a majority in Parliament supported him.

Geagea is the chief of the Lebanese Forces, one of the prominent Christian parties in Lebanon, which has a parliamentary bloc of eight MPs. He is Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s main rival.

Contrary to the decision of his main allies in the Future Movement, Geaega completely refused to work alongside Hezbollah in Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s national unity government, which was formed last month, unless the party withdrew its fighters from the war in neighboring Syria.

Geagea was born on Oct. 26, 1952, in the Beirut eastern suburb of Ain al-Rummaneh. He hails from the northern village of Bsharri. He joined the Kataeb Party in his early years and later became the head of the Lebanese Forces militia in 1986. He fought deadly battles against the Lebanese Army in 1990, which was at the time headed by Aoun.

Geagea was arrested in 1994 over his suspected involvement in a bomb attack on the Our Lady of Salvation Church the same year.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment over his alleged involvement in political assassinations during the Civil War and was not released until July 2005, when Parliament passed an amnesty law.

He accuses the Syrian regime of fabricating the accusations of political assassinations against him.

Boutros Harb

Harb, currently the telecommunications minister, is an established candidate for the presidency.

The Batroun MP and the late MP Nassib Lahoud were nominated by the March 14 coalition as their candidates for the presidency in 2008.

Harb formed a group of independent March 14 lawmakers following a dispute within the Christian community over the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral proposal last year.

He was first elected MP for Batroun in 1972 at the age of 28 and has been involved in Lebanese politics since. In addition to retaining his parliamentary seat, he had held several ministerial posts in previous governments and headed a number of parliamentary committees.

Despite his firm stance, Harb is also known for his political openness.

A harsh critic of Hezbollah’s weapons and the party’s military intervention in Syria, Harb does not have any chance of support from March 8 parties.

He opposed the armed Palestinian presence in Lebanon and called for the abrogation of the 1969 Cairo Agreement signed between the Lebanese government and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

He joined Muslim and Christian lawmakers in signing the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War.

Following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Harb was one of the founding members of the March 14 alliance along with other anti-Syrian figures, and became one of the its key figures.

Born in the northern village of Tannourine on Aug. 3, 1944, Harb holds a degree in law from Universite Saint Joseph.

Jean Kahwagi

Gen. Kahwagi could emerge as a consensus presidential candidate.

Despite sharp political divisions between March 8 and March 14 parties, all have voiced their support for the military establishment and Kahwagi. Last July, the rival alliances came together to back the extension of Kahwagi’s term for a further two years rather than see him retire as scheduled a few months later.

Kahwagi was born on Sept. 23, 1953, in the Bint Jbeil village of Ain Ibl. He was appointed an Army commander in August 2008. Since the start of the civil war in neighboring Syria, the Army has struggled to maintain stability in Lebanon and contain the sporadic clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad that have occurred across the country.

Earlier this year, the Army arrested several key figures in terrorist groups that were behind a wave of explosions in Lebanon.

With Lebanese politics characterized by deep polarization since Syria’s withdrawal in 2005, the Army commander has always emerged as one of the very few consensus candidates, reflecting the broad public support for the military.

For example, President Michel Sleiman was the Army commander prior to his 2008 election to presidency. He was the only candidate to win the support of March 8 and March 14 parties. President Emile Lahoud, Sleiman’s predecessor, also served as an Army commander.

Even in the early years of Lebanon’s independence the same trend could be seen: In the summer of 1958, Army commander Gen. Fouad Shehab was elected president following several months of strife.

Jean Obeid

A former MP and minister, Obeid is seen as a moderate figure and a possible consensus presidential candidate. He is close to Speaker Nabih Berri and also maintains good ties with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt as well as other political figures in the country.

The backing of both Jumblatt and Berri is essential for any presidential candidate aspiring to get into Baabda Palace.

Obeid maintained relations with Syrian officials when Syria maintained a military presence in the country. The veteran politician was also on good terms with late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. However, he does not enjoy the same relationship with Hariri’s son, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Obeid was born on May 8, 1939, in the Zghorta village of Alma but his family is originally from the northern city of Tripoli. Obeid holds a law degree from Beirut’s Universite Saint Joseph and has also worked as a journalist at Dar as-Sayyad.

The uncle of former Finance Minister Jihad Azour, he took part in a conference held in Geneva in 1983 to end Lebanon’s Civil War.

Obeid served as an MP from 1992 to 2005.

In 1993, he was appointed a minister of state in the Cabinet of the late RafikHariri. He became an education minister in 1996, also in Hariri’s government, and a foreign minister in the assassinated premier’s last Cabinet in 2003.During his tenure at the Education Ministry, he worked to introduce several reforms to the sector, which suffered badly due to Lebanon’s Civil War. He also inaugurated several schools across the country.

He served as an adviser to former presidents Elias Sarkis and Amine Gemayel.

Riad Salameh

The name of Salameh, the Central Bank governor, pops out as a potential consensus candidate for presidency.

Appointed to his current post in 1993, Salameh is globally recognized for his efforts to achieve monetary stability in Lebanon and played a key role in stabilizing the Lebanese pound after the Civil War.

Following several years of intense fighting, Lebanon’s currency began to depreciate rapidly in the 1980s and continued to plunge until the early 1990s. Salameh managed to stabilize it to an average of LL1,500 against the dollar.

Salameh spearheaded the campaign to remove Lebanon’s name from the list of countries not cooperating in the fight against money laundry, something that was finally achieved in October 2003. He went on to help create the Special Investigation Commission, which probes suspected money laundry operations in Lebanon.

Under Salameh, the country’s foreign currency reserve has reached nearly $35 billion, while the gold reserves are currently valued at more than $10 billion, the second highest in the region.

Salameh was selected twice as the world’s best Central Bank governor by Euromoney magazine. He is well respected in banking and financial circles and this has earned him the trust of the international community.

Salameh was born in his Kesrouan village of Kfar Zebian on July 17, 1950. He earned a B.A. in economics from the American University of Beirut.

Lebanese politicians from both March 8 and March 14 praise Salameh’s policies for having helped achieve monetary stability in the country.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 25, 2014, on page 2.




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Aoun has emerged as one of March 8's strongest candidates.

Although selected by President Michel Sleiman for the Interior Ministry post, Baroud is not affiliated with any of the political parties in Lebanon.

Although Frangieh was never elected president while Lebanon was under Syria's control between 1990 and 2005, the MP is seen as a possible presidential candidate from the March 8 coalition.

In a recent interview, Frangieh said he would support Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun for the presidential election, saying he would not act regarding the poll without coordinating with Aoun.

Lebanon's president from 1982 to 1988, Gemayel remains a potential presidential candidate for the March 14 coalition.

For example, President Michel Sleiman was the Army commander prior to his 2008 election to presidency.



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