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Lebanon’s Presidential Election Hits a Roadblock Amidst Sectarian Divisions

by Rahil M
0 comment

Hezbollah and its allies have successfully thwarted the bid to elect an International Monetary Fund (IMF) official as Lebanon’s president.

In a move that deepens sectarian tensions and exacerbates Lebanon’s political crisis, Hezbollah and its allies have successfully thwarted the bid to elect an International Monetary Fund (IMF) official as Lebanon’s president. This latest setback comes as Lebanon continues to grapple with its worst financial crisis since the civil war.

For the twelfth time, Lebanon’s parliament failed to elect a new president, a position reserved for a Maronite Christian under the country’s sectarian system. The power struggle has intensified sectarian divisions, with the Iran-backed Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah opposing the Christian factions, including its own ally Gebran Bassil, who supported IMF official Jihad Azour for the presidency.

Neither Azour nor Hezbollah-backed candidate Suleiman Frangieh obtained the required 86 votes for a first-round victory. Azour, the IMF’s Middle East Director and former finance minister, secured the support of 59 out of 128 lawmakers, while Frangieh garnered 51 votes.

Following the unsuccessful vote, Hezbollah and its allies withdrew from the session, denying the necessary two-thirds quorum for a second-round vote. Without a new session scheduled by Shiite Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Lebanon remains without a president since the term of Hezbollah-aligned President Michel Aoun expired in October.

Azour expressed his gratitude to the lawmakers who supported him and called for respect for the will of the majority. Hezbollah lawmaker Hussein al-Haj Hassan emphasized the group’s support for Frangieh, who has close ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

While some Christian lawmakers saw Azour’s support as a victory, analysts believe that Lebanon’s fractured parliament may require foreign intervention to resolve the political deadlock, similar to past crises. A new French envoy is expected to arrive in Beirut for mediation efforts, and there is a growing concern in Washington about the stalemate, as the United States wants to see a president elected who can unlock IMF support for Lebanon.

The political impasse also hampers essential decision-making processes, such as appointing a replacement for central bank governor Riad Salameh, who faces corruption charges. Also, Lebanon has been without a fully empowered cabinet since last year’s parliamentary elections.

Hezbollah, designated as a terrorist group by the United States, launched scathing attacks against Azour, accusing him of being confrontational and alleging that he has the backing of Israel. The country’s Shiite Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan echoed these sentiments, warning against a president with an “American stamp”.

Jihad Azour has advocated for national unity and reforms. During his tenure as finance minister from 2005 to 2008, Lebanon witnessed a period of political conflict between a Western-backed government and Hezbollah-led opponents aligned with Damascus. The crisis culminated in violent clashes in 2008, with Hezbollah taking control of significant parts of Beirut.

Lebanon finds itself at a critical juncture as the nation’s leaders struggle to elect a president, form a new government, and implement crucial reforms necessary to unlock a $3 billion IMF program. With poverty levels skyrocketing, inflation reaching alarming rates of 270%, the local currency plummeting, and the government defaulting on approximately $30 billion of Eurobonds, the country’s financial crisis is being described as one of the most severe in modern history. The IMF has emphasized the urgent need for rapid reforms to prevent Lebanon from spiraling further into an ever-deepening crisis.

The country’s financial crisis stems from decades of corruption and reckless spending by ruling politicians, whose vested interests have hindered any meaningful efforts to address the crisis. Although a recovery roadmap was approved by the cabinet in May 2022, the IMF has criticized Lebanon for its slow progress in implementing necessary reforms. The ongoing political deadlock and the failure to elect a president further exacerbate the country’s economic woes and jeopardize its prospects for recovery. The country faces the urgent need for effective governance and comprehensive reforms to tackle corruption, stabilize the economy, and restore the confidence of international stakeholders.

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