HomePoliticsNewsHezbollah backs Frangieh for presidency

Hezbollah backs Frangieh for presidency

In a speech, Nasrallah declared Hezbollah’s support for Sleiman Frangieh in Lebanon’s presidential race, but getting him elected could still prove a challenge.

In this file photo taken on October 31, 2016, Lebanese MP and Presidential candidate Sleiman Frangieh leaves the parliament after a session to elect a new president in Beirut. The former MP and minister's accession to the Lebanese presidency received the support of the Shiite Hezbollah group, announced during a televised speech by its leader on February 6. Photo: Joesph Eid, AFP

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced that the Iran-backed group would be joining Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri and his Amal Movement in supporting Sleiman Frangieh for the presidency during a Monday afternoon speech.

While Hezbollah’s support has become an informal requirement for the role of president in Lebanon, given the divide in Parliament, the road to electing Frangieh likely remains a long one.

Who is Sleiman Frangieh?: Frangieh heads the Maronite Christian Marada Movement, with his political base located in the northern city of Zgharta.

Hailing from a political dynasty, both his father and grandfather were a part of Lebanon’s politics with his grandfather, also named Sleiman Frangieh, serving as president from 1970 to 1976 and his father, Tony Frangieh, being an MP who was killed in the 1978 Ehden massacre. 

The younger Frangieh first entered Parliament in 1991 and became the minister of health in 1996 under the premiership of Rafik Hariri.

However, he has not been a minister or MP since he decided to not seek re-election in 2018, instead having his son Tony Frangieh take over his seat. He still heads the Marada Movement.

Frangieh is also close to the Assad regime in Syria, which stems from his friendship with Bassel al-Assad, the eldest son of then-President Hafez al-Assad, until his death in 1994.

Following the death of Bassel, he became friends with Hafez’s new heir Bashar, and they remain close to this day with Frangieh continuing to express support for Bashar’s rule even after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

Why does Hezbollah support Frangieh?: Given Frangieh’s closeness to the Assad family and the support for their rule, Frangieh also maintains a close relationship with Hezbollah.

During Nasrallah’s speeches, he continuously repeated that one of the main requirements for the future president is that they need to be someone who will not “stab the resistance in the back,” meaning that the president would not seek to interfere in Hezbollah’s affairs or try to disarm them.

Frangieh would likely echo much of the Assad regime’s positions, including its support for Hezbollah and its arms.

The leader of the Marada Movement would also continue to give Hezbollah the cover it needs to continue its work unimpeded. He is a closer ally to the Shiite party than the former president, Michel Aoun, who maintained an alliance more out of need and which has soured in recent months.

The long road ahead: With Hezbollah’s support, Frangieh will receive a significant portion of the votes needed to be elected president, but he will still be far short of reaching the two-thirds threshold.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel have repeatedly stated that they and their parties will not support Frangieh for the presidency, drastically limiting the amount of Maronite votes that he will receive in Parliament for his candidacy.

On top of this, Frangieh is unlikely to receive support from any of the “change” MPs, who were elected on the basis of not supporting the ruling traditional parties. There is also the issue of Gebran Bassil and the Free Patriotic Movement as Bassil has previously stated that “there is no president without us” and has also refused to support either Frangieh or army commander Joseph Aoun, another potential candidate that could be a consensus between the divided Parliament.

During his speech, Nasrallah said that the FPM could vote in whatever way they wanted to, but it was heavily implied that it was in their best interest to support Frangieh despite the growing rift between Hezbollah and the FPM.

Reportedly, Saudi Arabia, a major international actor in Lebanon, is against the candidacy of Frangieh and is planning on actively fighting it, likely due to his closeness with Hezbollah and the Assad regime.

The one place where Frangieh could see some cross-alliance support is with the Druze leader, Walid Joumblatt. While Joumblatt has said that “our candidate is Michel Mouawad,” he is one of the more politically fluid politicians who is willing to make deals with anyone.

Endgame: Hezbollah’s support for Frangieh will go a long way in helping him get elected, but it is going to require more backroom dealmaking if he is to actually be elected.

Currently, Frangieh still needs around a dozen more votes for him to be elected, assuming that Bassil and the FPM will support him, meaning that, whether it is Frangieh or someone else, it is going to be a while longer before Lebanon has a new president.

Nicholas Frakes is a senior reporter with @NOW_leb. He tweets  @nicfrakesjourno.