Lebanon's Hezbollah backs pro-Syrian politician for president
Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah group endorsed Monday a presidential candidate, in a move unlikely to resolve a deadlock that has left the crisis-hit country for months without a head of state.
"The candidate we support... is Sleiman Frangieh," Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said during a televised speech.
The Iran-backed Shiite movement holds huge sway over political life in Lebanon, but opposition from the country's two main Christian parties means pro-Syrian Frangieh lacks a clear path to majority backing in the divided parliament.
Lebanon has been mired for three years in a spiralling economic crisis dubbed by the World Bank as one of the worst in recent global history, and has been without a president since Michel Aoun's term expired at the end of October.
Politically rudderless, it has been run by a caretaker government with limited powers since May.
Frangieh, 57, a personal friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has long been considered among Hezbollah's preferred choices for president.
The former lawmaker and minister heads the Christian Marada movement, and like many of Lebanon's prominent political figures, hails from a storied dynasty.
Lebanon's sectarian political elite is widely blamed for the country's current woes.
Lawmakers have held 11 rounds of voting to name a successor to Aoun, but no candidate has garnered enough ballots.
Hezbollah and its allies have cast blank votes, with some lawmakers accusing the group of obstructing the ballot.
The Shiite group's Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, has opposed Frangieh's candidacy as its leader, Gebran Bassil, is also vying for the presidency.
The Shiite Amal movement, another Hezbollah ally, has voiced support for Frangieh.
But with no single party or parliamentary bloc holding a majority, electing a new president can drag on for months of even years.
Before Hezbollah-backed Aoun was finally elected in 2016, the group had adopted a similar boycotting tactic, contributing to more than two years of presidential vacancy.
Frangieh's grandfather and namesake was president when Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war broke out.
The presidential candidate's father, politician Tony Frangieh, was murdered in 1978 along with the rest of his immediate family -- apart from Sleiman, who had been away -- by rival Christian fighters.
Lawmaker Michel Moawad had received the most ballots in the failed presidential votes in recent months, but remained far from clinching a majority.
Moawad has good ties with Washington and has repeatedly asked for Hezbollah -- the only faction to keep its weapons after the end of the civil war -- to disarm.