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Lebanon fails to elect president for 12th time

June 14, 2023

Lebanon's political crisis looks set to continue after the latest attempt by lawmakers to elect a president failed. A bid to elect financial official Jihad Azour was again obstructed by Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Lebanese lawmakers gather to elect a president at the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon
Lebanese lawmakers convened Wednesday in another attempt to elect a president and break a seven-month power vacuumImage: Hassan Ammar/dpa/picture alliance

Lawmakers in Lebanon have failed to elect a president for the 12th time, extending the political vacuum as the country descends further into sectarian crisis.

The presidential post has been vacant since October when former President Michel Aoun's term came to an end but, just like the previous 11 attempts, most recently on January 19, the latest attempt to elect a successor ended in stalemate.

What happened?

Neither Christian-backed IMF official Jihad Azour (59 votes) nor Hezbollah favorite Sleiman Frangieh (51 votes) was able to win the two-thirds majority required to elect a president.

Hezbollah lawmakers and their allies then withdrew, hindering a second round of voting by denying the necessary quorum.

The Iranian-backed, armed Shiite group has adopted similar tactics in the past. During the last presidential vote, Lebanon was left without a president for more than two years until Aoun's 2016 win.

"Only consensus and dialogue" will speed up the election of a president, said parliament speaker Nabih Berri in a statement after the session.

"Enough passing the buck ... for prolonging the vacuum," he added, without immediately scheduling a new ballot.

Who were the main candidates?

Christian, independent and some Sunni Muslim and Druze legislators had been attempting to elect Jihad Azour, Lebanon's finance minister from 2005-2008 and currently the director of the Middle East and Central Asia department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On Monday, as he announced his bid for the post, he said he wanted to "contribute to a solution" not a crisis.

The Shiite movement, however, described Azour as the "defiance and confrontation candidate," instead backing Sleiman Frangieh, a friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who strongly supports Hezbollah's right to possess weapons.

Frangieh insisted on Sunday that he would be "the president of all Lebanese" despite his polarizing alliances.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, casts his vote
"Only consensus and dialogue" will speed up the election of a president, said parliament speaker Nabih BerriImage: Hassan Ammar/dpa/picture alliance

What happens now?

Under Lebanon's sectarian system, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian, the premiership goes to a Sunni Muslim and the post of parliament speaker is occupied by a Shiite.

But as the power vacuum grows, the country continues to be governed by a caretaker cabinet with limited powers and which cannot enact the reforms required to unlock billions of dollars in foreign loans which the country desperately needs as it navigates its most devastating economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

The United Nations estimate that more than 80% of the population is living in poverty, while strikes have paralyzed public services. Electricity is only available for a few hours a day and the Lebanese lira has lost over 90% of its value, currently trading at over 15,000 to the dollar.

Ahead of Wednesday's vote, the US and France had urged Lebanese lawmakers to cooperate, with French foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre urging them to "take this date seriously" and "not to waste another opportunity."

Analyst Karim Bitar told the AFP news agency: "At this stage, the most likely scenario is a prolonged vacuum."

mf/jcg (AFP, Reuters)