A former Christian army General who had been exiled for 15 years and recently returned to Lebanon has won important national support, following Sunday's ongoing parliamentary elections, by running on a non-sectarian platform in a nation often which has often been extremely divided along religious and ethnic lines.
Although Michele Aoun, 70, lost a war against Syrian troops in Lebanon and left the nation in 1990, he ended up joining forces with pro-Syrian groups upon his return, insisting that his battle with Syria was over now that its army had withdrawn after a nearly 30-year presence.
Aoun and his allies won 21 of 58 seasts contested in the central and eastern regions of the country, said Interior Minister hassan Sabei, according to the Associated Press. It was the third of four election rounds in a month-long parliamentary contest.
Following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February, Christian and Muslims had come together in opposition to Syria. Many viewed the Lebanese neighbor as one of the forces behind the killing. Massive protests and strong international pressure grew against Syria to end its nearly 30-year military presence in the nation. In April, Syrian forces withdrew.
However since that time, the anti-Syrian opposition had grown weak. Christian Bishops of the Maronite Church had criticized the "chaos within the ranks" of the opposition movement.
Aoun briefly considered joining the opposition but decided against it. Instead he chose to align himself with pro-Syrian groups, contending that his antagonism toward that nation ended. He also said he was distancing himself from sectarian politics.
"The divide in Lebanese politics is no longer between pro-Syrians and anti-Syrians," he said last month, according to Newsday. "It's between reformers and traditionalists ... I refuse to act as a Christian leader. I'm a Lebanese citizen."
In his platform, he said he was now focusing on government corruption and ways to end it.
Walid Jumblatt, a Druse opposition leader congratulated Aoun but strongly disagreed many of his views, seeing him as a "tool" that will be used by Syria.
"What happened is democratic. The people have spoken. I respect that. This is their choice," he said according to AP. "I congratulate Gen. Aoun for his victory and I think this is what democracy is all about the idea of choices of people, to choose whoever they want."
He also criticized Aoun.
"Michel Aoun is a Syrian tool," told Jumblatt to Lebanese TV on Sunday. "I acknowledge that he won. The Christian extremists have vanquished the moderates.
In response to accusations of Christian radicalism, Aoun said: "They labeled me as a Christian leader, and I am telling them now, I am not ashamed of my Christianity as I am a very faithful man, but my political agenda is national and targets all Lebanese," according to the Daily Star.