French envoy Le Drian returns to Lebanon in new attempt to end presidential vacuum

The country has been without a head of state since October 2022

Powered by automated translation

Former French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrived in Beirut on Tuesday for the first time in six months, marking his latest bid to resolve Lebanon's presidential vacuum.

Mr Le Drian, special envoy of President Emmanuel Macron, will hold meetings with the leaders of Lebanon's main political parties, a Lebanese political official said.

Lebanon has been without a president since October 2022. Legislators in Lebanon's deeply divided parliament – where no faction holds a majority – have repeatedly failed to agree on a successor to Michel Aoun.

The vacancy comes at a critical time as Lebanese militant group and political party Hezbollah trades daily blows with Israel in southern Lebanon.

In Lebanon's most recent presidential election session last June, votes were largely split between Jihad Azour and Suleiman Frangieh, although neither was able to gain enough support to win.

When Mr Le Drian visited in November he had, for the first time, called for a third way and accepted that the two main candidates from the June session were not able to garner enough support.

Hezbollah has refused to back down from its support for Marada leader Mr Frangieh, a close friend of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

France is part of the so-called quintet for Lebanon, which also includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and the US. They have repeatedly urged MPs to elect a new president.

Mr Le Drian was appointed last June to the role of President Emmanuel Macron's envoy to Lebanon.

After his visit in November, the French Foreign Ministry said MPs “having been elected by the Lebanese people, they are responsible for the urgent election of a president. The stability of the country’s institutions must be a top priority”.

In Lebanon's unique confessional system, the role of president is reserved for a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni, and the speaker of parliament must be Shiite.

While without a president, state authority lies in the hands of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, Najib Mikati's Council of Ministers is in a caretaker status and thus severely stripped of its powers.

Meanwhile, Lebanon is suffering from one of the worst economic crises in modern history according to the World Bank. Electricity continues to be at a shortage, as does clean water and medicines.

The economic collapse has seen the local currency collapse by about 98 per cent to the US dollar on the parallel market, the most used exchange rate.

Updated: May 28, 2024, 3:18 PM