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September 23, 2007


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Lebanon leading presidential candidates

BEIRUT, Lebanon - The following are portraits of the main and potential candidates for Lebanon’s presidential poll due to be held in parliament between September 25 and November 24.

Lebanon’s top job is reserved for a member of the Maronite Christian community. MPs do not have to limit their choice to the declared candidates when they convene for the vote to replace President Emile Lahoud.

From the ruling Western-backed majority:

MP Butros Harb, 63, (born August 3, 1944) from the northern village of Tannureen. He is a moderate member of the anti-Syrian ruling majority. A lawyer who has been a member of parliament since 1972, he was minister of public works and education in 1979-1980, and then minister of education from 1990 to 1992. He officially announced his candidacy on August 30.

Nassib Lahoud, 62, (born November 23, 1944) from the mountain village of Baabdat, east of Beirut. He is a moderate member of the anti-Syrian ruling majority. He is a cousin of outgoing President Lahoud and son of a former MP and government minister. Lahoud’s spouse is the sister of a wife of Saudi King Abdullah. Lahoud is an engineer who studied at Loughborough University of Technology in England and owns an engineering company. He was Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States in 1990-1991 and an MP between 1991 and 2005. He officially announced his candidacy on September 13.

MP Robert Ghanem, 65, (born June 18, 1942) from the village of Saghbin, in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon. The son of a former army commander, Ghanem is a lawyer and has been a MP since 1992. He was minister of education and sports between June 1995 and November 1996. He has declared his candidacy.

Justice Minister Charles Rizk, 72, (July 20, 1935) from Beirut. He earned a PhD in law in France. Rizk was teaching law studies at the Lebanese University before becoming director general of the information ministry in 1967. He was president of the state television station Tele-Liban between 1978 and 1983, before being named information minister in 2005, then minister of justice later that year. He has declared his candidacy in published remarks.

From the opposition:

MP Michel Aoun, 72, (born February 18, 1935) from the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik. A staunch critic of the Syrian regime’s role in Lebanon, he shocked many by brokering an alliance with the pro-Syrian opposition Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah in February 2006. After graduating from military school in Lebanon, Aoun earned degrees in military schools in France and the United States. He was army commander between 1984 and 1988, when he was named prime minister during a political crisis. He went into exile in France in 1991, a year after his aborted "war of liberation" against Syrian troops. Aoun returned from France in May 2005 — after the Syrian withdrawal. He has been an MP since 2005 and is president of the Free Patriotic Movement which has 22 MPs in the 127-member parliament. He has declared his candidacy on several occasions.

Independent figures:

Army commander-in-chief General Michel Sleiman, 58, (born November 21, 1948) from the northern coastal town of Amsheet. Sleiman joined the army in 1967 and has been army commander since 1998. He is seen as a serious compromise candidate to the presidency, although he has not publicly declared his wish to run for the post. Sleiman can only be elected after a constitutional amendment as he is considered a public servant and as such can not run.

Riad Salameh, 57, (born July 17, 1950) has been governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon since August 1993, after having studied economics at the American University of Beirut. He worked for Merrill Lynch in Beirut before becoming senior vice-president in France. Before becoming governor of the central bank, Salameh was handling the portfolio of slain prime minister Rafiq Hariri at Merrill Lynch. He is seen as a serious candidate, although he has not publicly declared his wish to run for the post. A constitutional amendment would be required for his candidacy.

Jean Obeid, 68, (born May 8, 1939) from the village of Alma in the northern district of Zgharta. He was an MP from 1991 until 2005 and held several cabinet posts between 1993 and 2004, including foreign minister in 2004. A lawyer, he was close to the Syrian leadership before Damascus’s troop pullout in 2005, but has since adopted a neutral stand. He is seen as a compromise candidate, although he has not publicly declared his wish to run.

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