Lebanon fails to elect new president on 12th attempt as Azour and Frangieh enter fray

Divided legislature returned to vote on next head of state after a five-month hiatus

Gebran Bassil's party announces their presidential candidate

Gebran Bassil's party announces their presidential candidate
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Lebanon's parliament again failed to agree on a new president at the 12th attempt, highlighting the bitter divisions among politicians in a country entrenched in economic crisis.

The house sessions to elect a head of state resumed on Wednesday after a five-month hiatus.

International Monetary Fund official Jihad Azour, backed by most of the country's Christian parties, received 59 votes while Suleiman Frangieh, supported by the Shiite pairing of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, garnered 51 votes.

Both men fell short of the two-thirds majority required in the first round of voting in a 128-seat parliament where no side holds the majority.

There was no second round after some MPs, mainly Hezbollah and Amal, left the room and the quorum was lost. The second round would have required an absolute majority of 65 votes.

All 128 MPs were present. There were a handful of protest votes and ballots for other candidates.

It was the first time that some major parties, including Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally Amal, stopped casting blank ballots and formalised their support for a specific candidate.

Nabih Berri, speaker of parliament and leader of Amal, said enough was enough as he urged MPs to stop blaming rival factions for the presidential vacuum, adding that "spinning in this vicious circle" would achieve nothing.

Speaking before the session, Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said the group’s hand was “extended for dialogue” and that a president could be elected “by consensus”.

It also led the Free Patriotic Movement, one of parliament's largest parties, to form a rare convergence with its traditional Christian rival and back Mr Azour. The FPM, whose alliance with Hezbollah has waned in strength, had previously been casting blank ballots.

The IMF official was also backed by the main Druze bloc, led by the Progressive Socialist Party.

Speaking after the session ended, Mr Frangieh thanked those who voted for him while saying he respected the choice of those who had not.

Mr Frangieh is the scion of an influential north Lebanon Maronite family, and is a close friend of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Supporters of Mr Azour, a former finance minister, insist that he is not a confrontational candidate – a claim strongly rejected by Hezbollah, whose representatives and supporters have launched a series of verbal attacks against him.

Opponents of Mr Azour's candidacy say nothing unites his backers other than their desire to block the candidacy of Mr Frangieh.

Some supporters of the IMF official described Wednesday's outcome as positive. Georges Adwan, a senior member of parliament's largest party, the Lebanese Forces, said it proved how close Mr Azour was to obtaining 65 votes.

The country has been without a president since the term of former army chief and FPM founder Michel Aoun ended at the end of October. He came to power in 2016 after a two-and-a-half-year vacuum that ended only after he hammered out a deal with traditional rivals, including foes dating back to the 1975-1990 civil war.

In Lebanon's confessional system, the parliament speaker must be a Shiite Muslim, the prime minister a Sunni and the president a Maronite Christian.

The lack of a president comes as Lebanon grapples with one of the worst economic crises in modern history.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati's cabinet is in caretaker status – and thus severely stripped of its powers – after he failed to agree on its make-up with Mr Aoun before the latter's term ended.

Updated: June 14, 2023, 12:39 PM