US calls on Lebanon to quickly elect president 'free of corruption'

Country has been without a head of state for months

Gebran Bassil discusses presidential vacancy in Lebanon

Gebran Bassil discusses presidential vacancy in Lebanon
Gebran Bassil discusses presidential vacancy in Lebanon
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The US believes Lebanon needs to elect a president “free of corruption”, who can unite a deeply divided country entrenched in one of the worst economic crises in modern history.

Six months after Michel Aoun departed the presidential palace in Baabda, the State Department said the solution to Lebanon’s problems could only come internally and not from the international community.

“Now is the time for action to select appropriate leadership and save the country from further disaster,” it said.

Parliament has failed to elect a president during 12 sessions, with no candidate coming close to the threshold required to become head of state.

Speaker Nabih Berri has not called MPs back to vote on the issue for months, such is the impasse.

The US urged Lebanon’s political leadership to “move expeditiously to elect a president to unite the country and swiftly enact the reforms needed to rescue its economy from crisis”.

“Lebanon’s leaders must not put their personal interests and ambitions above the interests of their country and people,” it said.

While Lebanon is used to long delays in electing its president — it took two-and-a-half years for former army chief Mr Aoun to secure enough support — the vacuum is unprecedented.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet is in a caretaker status and severely stripped of its power. The state is also nowhere near to meeting the required conditions for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund after reaching a preliminary agreement last spring.

“While it is for Lebanon’s elected leaders to form their own government, the United States believes Lebanon needs a president free of corruption who can unite the country, advocate for transparency and accountability, put the interests of Lebanon’s people first, move towards national unity, and implement critical economic reforms, chief among them those required to secure an IMF programme,” the State Department said.

MP Michel Moawad has at times been able to count on about a third of the 128-seat legislature for support in the presidential race. But that is well short of the threshold needed and his campaign appears to have stuttered to a halt.

He has been able to count on a faction of MPs largely opposed to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed armed group and political party that holds significant sway in the country.

Hezbollah and its Shiite ally the Amal Movement, led by Mr Berri, have announced their support for Suleiman Frangieh, whose grandfather served as president from 1970-76.

Updated: May 02, 2023, 10:02 AM