US, France and Saudi Arabia call on Lebanese politicians to elect unifying president

Beirut faces increasing economic woes and political instability just as President Aoun's mandate draws to a close

A man sits by a closed Bank of Beirut branch on Tuesday. Reuters
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The US, France and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday called on Lebanese politicians to elect a unifying and internationally co-operative president when current leader Michel Aoun's term expires next month.

Mr Aoun's mandate ends on October 31 but there is no consensus on his successor, presenting the possibility that Lebanon will have no president even as its economy collapses.

“It is critical to elect a president who can unite the Lebanese people and work with regional and international actors to overcome the current crisis,” a statement from the US, France and Saudi Arabia read.

“We call for the formation of a government capable of implementing the structural and economic reforms urgently needed to address Lebanon’s political and economic crises, specifically those reforms needed to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, urged timely presidential elections in a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati.

Mr Blinken urged Mr Mikati and other leaders to "implement key reforms needed to effect meaningful change, promote good governance and revive Lebanon’s economy while restoring the trust of its people," the State Department said.

A date for elections has not been set.

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The IMF on Wednesday said the Lebanese government's slowness to implement desperately needed reforms was exacerbating the country's economic meltdown.

The three countries said they were willing to work jointly with Lebanon to support the implementation of these reforms and acknowledged the “critical role” of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces.

The Lebanese economy has been in free-fall since late 2019 in an economic collapse described by the World Bank as one of the worst the world has seen since the 1850s.

The crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has been running the small nation since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Lebanon's Mr Mikati said his country was so stretched partly because of large numbers of refugees from neighbouring Syria.

There should be "additional qualitative assistance provided to the Lebanese state and its different departments and infrastructure", he said.

"The infrastructure is overstretched by the large influx of displaced persons for more than 10 years."

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: September 22, 2022, 12:03 AM