The Lebanese parliament on Thursday failed for the eighth consecutive time to elect a new president, as a majority of lawmakers continue to oppose the options laid on the table.
During the first round of voting on Thursday, 111 votes were cast in the 128-seat parliament, with 52 lawmakers casting blank votes, while 37 voted in support of Michel Moawad, the son of the late president René Moawad.
The 37 votes cast for Moawad are a drop from last week’s session, when 42 lawmakers voted for the candidate who is backed by the anti-Hezbollah bloc made up of the Lebanese Forces (LF) party, the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), the Kataeb party, and a few ‘independent’ lawmakers.
Some lawmakers even wrote in mock choices on their ballots, with one vote cast for Brazil’s socialist president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Following the voting session, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced that a ninth attempt to elect a president will take place next week.
The Lebanese presidency, which has been reserved for the country’s Christian Maronite sect since the National Pact of 1943, has remained empty since the end of Michel Aoun’s term in September after six years in power.
Hezbollah’s ‘Loyalty to the Resistance’ party, along with its allies in the Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) all oppose Moawad’s candidacy. Hezbollah’s lawmakers, specifically, have maintained that their preferred candidate for the presidency is the leader of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh.
The pro-resistance bloc has also been calling for dialogue to elect a “consensual president” among all political sides. However, US and Saudi-backed parties like the LF have opposed this. Christian political leader Samir Geagea said earlier this week that “dialogue with [Hezbollah and its allies] is a waste of time.”
In response to this divisive stance, PSP leader Walid Jumblat called Geagea’s remarks “absurd” and said that “talking to all parties is necessary to elect a new president.”
According to Article 49 of the Lebanese constitution, a presidential candidate is elected either by winning a two-thirds majority of parliament on the first ballot – 86 members, the same number required for a legal quorum – or by a simple majority of 65 votes in subsequent rounds.
So far, no candidate has been able to secure the support of enough lawmakers, in either the first or subsequent rounds of voting. Former president Aoun’s own election in 2016 came after a more than two-year vacancy at the presidential palace, as lawmakers made 45 failed attempts before reaching a consensus on his candidacy.
Further muddying the waters, the US, France, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have all expressed their desire to see the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) commander, Joseph Aoun, be named as Lebanon’s new president. Since 2019, the Levantine nation has been shouldering what the World Bank describes as the world’s worst economic crisis in the past 150 years, caused by rampant corruption in the financial sector.
There was recently a similar hold-up at a Lebanese bank by someone demanding their own money. And as Lebanon sinks deeper into financial turmoil, we will likely see more of these. https://t.co/93901KOT6W
— Thomas Abi-Hanna (@ThomasRiddIe) September 14, 2022
A prolonged power vacuum would only exacerbate the situation, as Beirut is currently unable to enact sweeping reforms demanded by international lenders as a condition for releasing billions of dollars in loans.
At a forum organized on 4 November at the Wilson Center, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Barbara Leaf, warned that the current situation in Lebanon could lead to a “complete disintegration of the state and the collapse of its security forces.”
Leaf added that, as the crisis becomes more unbearable, she expects Lebanese lawmakers to pack their bags and leave for Europe, abandoning the country as “unsalvageable.” “We are putting pressure on political leaders to do their job, but nothing is as effective as popular pressure. Sooner or later, people will rise again,” Leaf pointed out.
She added that collapse will enable Lebanon “somehow to be rebuilt from the ashes, freed from the curse of Hezbollah.” The US official concluded that the US and Saudi Arabia share the same vision for Lebanon, and are cooperating to achieve it.