Jihad Azour to take leave of absence from IMF amid Lebanon's presidential race

Senior finance official has been backed to be next head of state by Lebanon's main Christian parties

Gebran Bassil's party announces their presidential candidate

Gebran Bassil's party announces their presidential candidate
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Lebanese presidential candidate Jihad Azour will temporarily step down from his role at the International Monetary Fund to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, the financial agency has said.

Mr Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia office at the IMF, has been backed by Lebanon's largest Christian parties to fill the country's seven-month presidential vacuum – although for now it appears he lacks the votes required to become the next head of state.

The IMF said Mr Azour, a former finance minister of Lebanon, was to take leave “to avoid any perception of conflict of interest”.

Last year Lebanon reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF for a $3 billion bailout, although most of the requirements for that deal have yet to be implemented.

An economic crisis, which first became apparent in 2019 and has been blamed on decades of mismanagement and corruption by Lebanon's elites, has plunged much of the country into poverty.

The local currency has lost about 98 per cent of its value to the US dollar on the parallel market, while widespread shortages of state-supplied electricity, clean water and medicine are causing major social problems.

In 11 sessions, Lebanon's bitterly divided parliament – where no bloc holds a majority – has failed to come anywhere near to electing a successor to Michel Aoun. The latter, a former army chief, left the presidential palace in Baabda in October.

Presidential voting sessions will recommence on Wednesday after a five-month hiatus.

Last week Lebanon's largest Christian parties and a number of independent MPs announced their support for Mr Azour.

His main rival, for now, is Suleiman Frangieh, who has garnered the support of Iran-backed Hezbollah and its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement.

Updated: June 08, 2023, 5:00 PM