Lebanon’s Parliament failed to elect a President for the fourth time bringing the country closer to institutional deadlock amid a deep financial crisis.
The series of bank robberies by Lebanese citizens hoping to recover their own savings, which have been frozen for the past three years, attracted much foreign media attention in recent weeks and overshadowed the presidential election currently underway in Lebanon.
As the six-year non-renewable term of the current president, former general Michel Aoun ends on October 31, the process to replace him began on September 29 in parliament, whose 128 MPs have the constitutional power to elect the head of state. Voting is by secret ballot and the president of the republic is elected by a two-thirds majority in the first round and by an absolute majority in subsequent rounds.
Unsurprisingly, the first parliamentary session was not a success. No consensus has yet been found on who should be Aoun’s successor due to the divisions within the political class. Parliament is so polarised that it can’t even agree on the need to form a new government to replace the one currently led by incumbent Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who has been in charge of current affairs since May, when the new parliament’s mandate began.
The majority of the 122 votes cast on September 29 were blank, while Michel Moawad – a Maronite MP and the son of former President René Moawad, who was assassinated in 1989 – received 36 votes.
One vote was cast in memory of Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian woman who died on September 16 in Tehran after being arrested by the morality police for wearing her headscarf “improperly” and whose death triggered the ongoing protest movement in Iran.
The Lebanese, who are already facing the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, already know that the presidential process can last a long time. Due to the lack of consensus between the different political camps and various political blockages, they endured 29 months of institutional vacuum after former President Michel Sleiman’s term in office ended on May 25, 2014.
Aoun, a political ally of pro-Iranian Hezbollah, was not elected until the 46th electoral session and endless negotiations for the two-thirds quorum needed to hold the vote – 86 out of 128 parliament members – had taken place. He officially became president on October 31, 2016.
The presidency has fallen vacant several times since the 1975-90 civil war. Lebanon’s financial meltdown has sunk the currency by more than 90%, spread poverty, paralysed the financial system and frozen depositors out of their savings in the most destabilising crisis since the country’s civil war.