The deeply-divided Lebanese parliament failed on Thursday to elect a president to succeed incumbent Michel Aoun, who is due to step down at the end of October.
Dozens of deputies departed after the first round of voting during which a candidate must secure the backing of 85 of the assembly’s 128 members. In subsequent sessions candidates require 65 votes.
Of the 122 attending, 63 cast blank ballots, 10 voted for Lebanon, and one for Mahsa Amiri, the Iranian woman who died two weeks ago in Tehran’s morality police custody. The largest number, 36, were for Michel Moawad, son of assassinated president Rene Moawad.
The candidate of the “Change” movement Selim Edde took only 11, revealing that reformists who won seats in the May parliamentary election remain marginal. No political bloc won an absolute majority in this election, making consensus difficult.
Following an adjournment, Amal deputy Ali Hassan Khalil said: “Everybody knew no president would be elected in this session.
“The blank ballots showed all blocs must consult and agree [on a candidate]. We still have time.”
Army chief Joseph Aoun — who is not related to the president — was rumoured to be the favourite candidate but many Lebanese do not want a fifth general to be president.
Speaker Nabih Berri declared he would not call for another vote until there is an agreed candidate. Choice is limited. Under Lebanon’s sectarian powersharing system the president must be a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker a Shia.
Achieving consensus can take time. The 2016 election of President Aoun came after 45 attempts over 29 months. Mr Aoun has said he would not leave office until the situation is “normal,” suggesting Lebanon must have fully empowered government and a president before he would retire. He reportedly approved the latest list of cabinet ministers submitted by prime minister designate Najib Mikati, but the president’s party disagreed. Its head is his highly unpopular son-in-law Gibran Basil, who has presidential ambitions.
If a new president is not chosen before Mr Aoun’s term ends, the government is meant to assume his powers. However, there could be a political vacuum if the current caretaker cabinet remains. This could add to the acute financial, economic, political, and social crises afflicting the country.
“If there is a political vacuum, the economic crisis would intensify and there is a clear risk of security incidents,” analyst Karim Bitar told Naharnet.
Since mid-2019, Lebanon has been mired in multiple crises which have plunged 80 per cent of the Lebanese population into poverty. The currency has lost 90 per cent of its value, banks have imposed limits on deposits, the state-run electricity company does not have fuel for power plants, public schools have remained closed and hospitals have struggled to provide basic care.
Lebanese people have joined the exodus from the Levant. Last week, 100 Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians seeking decent lives in Italy died when their boat, carrying 120 people, capsized off the Syrian coast. While Lebanese police have arrested eight of the people smugglers involved in the deadly voyage, scores remain in the lucrative trade.