Lebanese MPs say 50 nights sleeping in Parliament 'a fight for hope'

Najat Saliba and Melhem Khalaf have spent 50 nights inside the building as the country grapples to find a new president

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On Thursday, two Lebanese MPs marked their 50th night of sleeping in parliament in hopes of pressuring other MPs to bring an end to the impasse that has left the country without a president for four months.

Najat Saliba and Melhem Khalaf, both elected last year as Change MPs have been sleeping in the building since January 19. They stay on meeting room sofas just down the hall from the parliamentary chamber, but do leave the complex to get food.

The protesting MPs tell The National that despite the continued political paralysis, they are determined to stay until a president is elected.

“We are so convinced in our aim and our causes, we have to fight to hope for our population,” Mr Khalaf says.

So far, despite 11 attempts, Lebanese MPs have failed to elect a new president as the country continues to struggle through one of the worst economic crises in modern history.

On whether the tactic has been effective, or whether they could try any other legal avenue to force parliamentarians to turn up, Ms Saliba and Mr Khalaf insist they have tried everything else.

“We talk to all parties, we talk to all members, try to push them to really feel with the sufferings of the people and also get going with reinstating the executive, the executive administration and in the executive bodies,” says Ms Saliba.

On Monday night, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah publicly announced his and his party’s support for Suleiman Frangieh as the next president of Lebanon.

Hezbollah is an Iran-backed political party and armed group with significant influence in the country.

The announcement followed a similar one by its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement, which is led by parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri. While the public backing for Mr Frangieh is an important boost for the close ally of Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad, it still leaves him a long way off the threshold needed to become Lebanon’s next president — highlighting the entrenched divisions in the Lebanese parliament, where no bloc holds a majority.

In the first round of voting, a two-thirds majority — or 86 seats ― is required for a successor to be named. An absolute majority is needed in subsequent ballots in the same session.

For now, it appears Lebanon is far from filling the vacuum that has existed since Michel Aoun’s term concluded at the end of October.

However, when asked if they would support Mr Frangieh, Mr Khalaf and Ms Saliba made their feelings clear.

“Absolutely not,” says Ms Saliba, “We didn't hear anything about why this [candidate] is good for Lebanon. We didn't hear any approach of how he's going to fix the economic problem or the healthcare problem or the education problem.

“It seems that this candidate is about a name rather than about the issues that we're suffering with. This is not how we should elect our president.”

Updated: March 09, 2023, 1:00 PM