Lebanese lawmakers to elect country’s next president despite lack of consensus

BEIRUT (AP) — The speaker of Lebanon’s parliament on Tuesday summoned lawmakers for a session this week to elect the country’s next president, offering a glimmer of hope for a political step forward even as chaos rocks the nation of Middle East.

Parliament is due to meet on Thursday, according to a memo from President Nabih Berri. Under Lebanon’s fragile sectarian power-sharing system, the country’s 128-member parliament votes for a president, who must be a Maronite Christian.

The six-year term of incumbent Lebanese President Michel Aoun – a retired military general and an ally of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group who was elected in October 2016 after a two-year stalemate – ends on October 31. .

Aoun’s successor must be elected at a time when Lebanon is going through an economic crisis and the government is struggling to implement the structural reforms required for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The crisis, which began at the end of 2019, plunged three quarters of the small Mediterranean nation into poverty and the Lebanese pound lost 90% of its value against the dollar.

However, it is unclear whether lawmakers in a deeply divided parliament will be able to achieve a quorum for the session, raising the prospect of renewed political paralysis.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun speaks during an address to the nation at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, November 21, 2019. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

In recent months, no majority or consensus candidate has emerged for the post of Aoun’s successor.

Sleiman Frangieh of the Marada party, a Hezbollah ally who calls Syrian President Bashar Assad a “friend and brother”, has support from some key parties but has not received backing from a major Christian bloc.

The other candidates announced, Tracy Chamoun, the granddaughter of a former Lebanese president running for an anti-Hezbollah platform, businessman Ziad Hayek and writer and women’s advocate May Rihani, did not not yet received official sponsorship.

Opponents of Hezbollah, backed by the United States and the Gulf Arab monarchies, hope to use their influence to ensure that Lebanon’s next president is not a Hezbollah ally. Separately, 13 independent reformist lawmakers are lobbying to try and push for a reformist president who would prioritize reforms and lift Lebanon out of the quagmire.

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