Assad ally declares candidacy for Lebanese presidency

Lebanese Christian politician and leader of the Marada movement Suleiman Franjieh meets with Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb (unseen) at his house in Bnechi, northern Lebanon December 7, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A family friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he will stand for Lebanon's presidency, a post that has been vacant for more than 18 months.

Lebanese lawmaker Suleiman Franjieh announced his candidacy late on Thursday in an interview on LBCI television, voicing confidence in a power-sharing proposal that would put him in the top role and make Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri prime minister.

That arrangement, widely discussed in Lebanese media but until now not formally announced, could revive government institutions paralyzed by political rivalries that have been heightened by the war in neighboring Syria.

Lebanon's presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian, and Franjieh has faced competition for the post from other leading Christian figures, notably Michel Aoun, an ally of the powerful Iran-backed Shi'ite movement Hezbollah.

"I am a candidate for the presidency, more than any time before," Franjieh said.

Hariri, a former prime minister, said on Sunday he would pursue a power-sharing deal with Franjieh.

Lebanon's prime minister is chosen by the president, who is elected by parliamentary vote.

Saudi Arabia, which backs Hariri, has lent its support to the deal, while its regional foe Iran has said it hopes to see Lebanon choose a president soon.

Franjieh's ties to the Assad family date back to his childhood when he accompanied his grandfather, the late President Suleiman Franjieh, on visits to Damascus to the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.

Franjieh used to hunt with Bashar al-Assad's older brother, Basil, who died in a car crash in 1994.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; editing by John Stonestreet)