Author:Blanford, Nicholas

Nicholas Blanford reports from Beirut on the tasks facing Lebanon's new president.

Despite months of frenzied political debate in Lebanon over the identity of the first post-war president, the election of the army commander, General Emile Lahoud, was, ultimately, a distinct anti-climax.

Of the 128 MPs that comprise the Lebanese parliament, 118 gathered on 15 October and, in a light-hearted session that barely lasted 30 minutes, unanimously elected General Lahoud to the post.

The result came as no surprise as the decision over who was to become Lebanon's next head of state had been unveiled 10 days earlier following a summit in Damascus between the outgoing president, Elias Hrawi, and his Syrian counterpart Hafez al-Asad.

Damascus, the main powerbroker in Lebanon, had given its blessing to the 62-year-old general and his election by the pro-Syrian Lebanese parliament wasa mere formality.

The new president, who is due to be sworn in on 25 November, is expected to usher in a series of reforms to fight corruption and modernise the civil administration, both of which continue to hamper Lebanon's post-war reconstruction drive.

The election has been greeted with wide-spread popular approval across the sectarian divide, with Lebanon's fractious politicians also displaying rare unity in welcoming Lahoud as president.

"We believe that Lebanon has entered a new era," said Rafik Hariri, the multi-billionaire prime minister, following the election.

The parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, said his Shia Amal movement "will stand beside the new president and support his efforts to bring into being a new Lebanon based on honesty and ability, not sectarianism and nepotism."

But the key question is whether President Lahoud can play a stronger role than his predecessor, Elias Hrawi, and whether he will act as an ally or a counterbalance to Lebanon's formidable prime minister, who spearheads the reconstruction drive and is the country's most notable figure in the international arena.

During his 10 years as army commander, General Lahoud was widely praised for reuniting the Lebanese army, which had fragmented along sectarian lines during the civil war, and steering the military away from politics.

While in charge of the military, Lahoud was famed for shunning the public eye and led an austere existence. He earned a reputation as a sincere, hard working individual, and most importantly, was considered a clean pair of hands, untarnished by the frequent allegations...

To continue reading