Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has left office one day before his six-year mandate ends as parliament failed to agree on his successor.
A few thousand well-wishers gathered outside the Baabda Presidential Palace in Beirut to pay tribute to the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the outgoing head of state. Aoun’s six years of presidency officially ends on Monday.
In a speech outside the palace, the 89-year-old Christian leader, who took office in 2016, said Lebanon was entering a new “chapter which requires huge efforts.”
“Without these efforts, we cannot put an end to our suffering. We cannot bring our country back on its feet. We cannot salvage Lebanon out of this deep pit,” he said in front of cheering supporters.
By Saturday evening, dozens of supporters had already gathered in the gardens of Baabda Palace, where tents had been set up. FPM supporters flocked to the presidential palace on the hills overlooking the capital to accompany him to his private residence.
"We have come to escort the president at the end of his mandate, to tell him that we are with him and that we will continue the struggle by his side," said teacher Joumana Nahed.
Lebanese lawmakers have tried but failed four times in a month to agree on electing Aoun’s successor.
Lebanon has already been governed by a caretaker cabinet as Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati has been working hard for six months to form a government.
Aoun told supporters he has accepted the resignation of Mikati's government.
Aoun’s departure could be threatening a new power vacuum in the crisis-torn country and stoking fears of a deepening political crisis.
The president in Lebanon has the power to sign bills into law, appoint new prime ministers and green-light government formations before they are voted on by parliament.
In 2006, the Free Patriotic Movement formed an alliance with Hezbollah resistance movement.
In his interview with Reuters, Aoun credited Hezbollah for its “useful” role in acting as a “deterrent” against any Israeli attacks during the maritime border talks. Aoun on Friday ruled out peace with the “Israeli enemy,” a day after the sides signed a deal that demarcates their maritime border in the Mediterranean Sea.
On October 27, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, labeled the deal a “very big victory for Lebanon and its people and resistance.”
Lebanon and the Israeli regime have technically been at war for decades. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 during the civil war and occupied Lebanese territory until 2000. Israel’s last military aggression against Lebanon was in the summer of 2006.