Lebanon fails to elect new president at eighth attempt

Independent MP Michel Moawad again outstripped by blank ballots as one MP casts mock vote for Brazil's incoming leader Lula

Gebran Bassil discusses presidential vacancy in Lebanon

Interview with Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) political party in Lebanon on 25 October 2022 at his home in Mtaileb, Lebanon. Matt Kynaston/ The National
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Lebanon's divided parliament failed for the eighth time to elect a new president, extending a governance vacuum as the country experiences a devastating economic crisis.

Support for independent MP Michel Moawad was again outstripped by blank votes, with 52 to 37.

Two thirds of the vote in the 128-seat parliament are needed for a candidate to win in the first round, with an absolute majority required in subsequent rounds.

Some 111 MPs turned up to the session, with the high number of blank or protest votes indicates that a consensus figure is yet to emerge.

As has happened in recent sessions, some MPs wrote in mock choices on their ballots. On Thursday one vote was cast for Brazil's leftist president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, while at last week's session another was given to Salvador Allende, the socialist President of Chile from 1970-1973.

Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri called the next presidential session for next Thursday.

While Mr Moawad has been able to count on the support of a largely anti-Hezbollah bloc, including parliament's largest party, the Lebanese Forces, many see him as too divisive to achieve the vote threshold.

Hezbollah is the highly influential Lebanese armed group and political party that is backed by Iran.

“We cannot continue like this. Those who are waiting for regional and international agreements to elect a president are not aware of what the people are going through,” Mr Moawad said after the session.

The latest vote comes more than a month after former army general Michel Aoun left the presidential palace. It took 46 sessions and two and a half years to elect him in 2016, and that only after a series of back-door deals between key factions.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati has been in caretaker status for months after a failure to agree on its make-up and is thus largely powerless.

In Lebanon's confessional system, the position of president is reserved for a Maronite Christian, the parliamentary speaker for a Shiite Muslim, and the prime minister's post for a Sunni Muslim.

Mr Aoun's son-in-law Gebran Bassil has been talked of as a potential contender, as is Marada Movement leader Suleiman Frangieh, who is close to the Syrian regime and believed to be the candidate of Iran-backed Hezbollah.

The governance vacuum is causing fears that reforms needed to secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund will not be implemented.

Lebanon's economic collapse has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history, with much of the population now living in poverty. The local currency has lost more than 95 per cent of its value, inflation is rampant and there are widespread shortages of electricity, clean water, medicines and other basic essentials.

Updated: December 01, 2022, 1:52 PM