Lebanon's parliament fails to elect president in fifth electoral session

The session – the first since president Michel Aoun's departure from office – confirms power vacuum

Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, right, looks on as deputies count the votes during a session to elect a new president, October 24, 2022.  EPA
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Lebanon’s parliament failed to elect a president on Thursday when it convened for a fifth electoral session to elect a new head of state. It was the first session since the end of previous president Michel Aoun's term.

The failure of the session dashed hopes that the end of Mr Aoun's presidency would urge the assembly to elect a new president and end a power vacuum that threatens to paralyse state operations.

In the absence of a president, the constitution stipulates that the powers attributed to the head of state pass to the government, headed by the prime minister.

However, the current government has been operating in a stripped-down caretaker capacity since the May 15 parliamentary elections. Without a president or a fully empowered government, Lebanon will face a governance vacuum at a time when urgent structural reforms need passing to unlock a significant aid package from the International Monetary Fund.

The fifth session was not unlike previous attempts to elect a president, with blank ballots outnumbering votes for independent MP Michel Moawad, this time 47 to 44.

Mr Moawad is the favoured candidate of the parliamentary bloc of Lebanese Forces (LF) – a Christian group and the largest party in parliament, which pits itself as the opposition to the pro-Hezbollah bloc. The Free Patriotic Movement's bloc, the second-most prominent Christian party in parliament, again voted blank in the absence of an alternate candidate.

Six votes went to Issam Khalifa, an MP supported by some opposition MPs, seven protest votes for "a new Lebanon", and four votes for other candidates. Only 108 MPs from the 128-member parliament attended the electoral session.

By convention, Lebanon’s confessional system gives the presidency to a Maronite Christian, while the parliamentary speaker must be a Shiite Muslim and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.

This makes the will of the two biggest Christian parties – the Hezbollah-opposing Lebanese Forces and the Hezbollah allied Free Patriotic Movement – vitally important in choosing a viable candidate for the presidency and in rallying support.

Gebran Bassil discusses presidential vacancy in Lebanon

Gebran Bassil discusses presidential vacancy in Lebanon

Two thirds of the vote in the 128-seat parliament is needed for a presidential candidate to secure a win in the first round of voting. An absolute majority is required in subsequent rounds.

After the vote count, parliament speaker Nabih Berri did not call for a second round of voting before leaving the assembly. Previous sessions have quickly lost quorum after the first round.

Some MPs criticised Mr Berri’s refusal to continue the session, with some calling for an open session to continue until a president is elected.

Nadim Gemayel, a member of the Christian Kataeb party, during the session queried the point of holding the fifth session.

"The people watching us are asking if this is a masquerade or a folklore or an act we're putting on. The Lebanese people should not have to pay the price for this," he said, referring to parliament's continued failure to elect a president.

A sixth electoral session has been called for Thursday, November 17.

Updated: November 10, 2022, 2:06 PM