Lebanese MPs fail for the fifth time to elect a president
Lebanon’s divided parliament failed on Thursday to elect a new president for the fifth time, with the post vacant since the mandate of Michel Aoun expired last month.
A new session will be held next Thursday, Nov. 17.
Independent Michel Moawad was the frontrunner in the 128-seat parliament with 44 votes on Thursday, still far short of the two-thirds majority — or 86 ballots — needed to win.
Parliament is split between supporters of the Hezbollah movement and its opponents, neither having a clear majority.
Hezbollah rejected the candidacy of Moawad and called for a “compromise candidate” to be found.
In the meantime, most MPs from its bloc spoiled their ballots.
This year’s vacancy comes as Lebanon is gripped since 2019 by an unprecedented financial crisis that has pushed much of the population into poverty.
Since May, Lebanon has had only a caretaker government that lacks the authority to push through the sweeping reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for releasing billions of dollars in emergency loans.
Amid this political sterility, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati stressed on Thursday that the government is doing “the work that is constitutionally and nationally required to pass this difficult stage while awaiting the election of a president.”
He was speaking at the opening of a workshop for the heads of the Supreme Judicial Council and the first Arab-European Chambers of Cassation.
Mikati said that “those who enjoy obstruction and waste opportunities” are trying to suggest to the public that “the government is willing to replace the head of state, or is working to take away his powers. That is deceiving and hypocritical.”
Mikati stressed that it was not acceptable for the position of head of state to remain empty, not even for a single day.
Thursday’s session was the first held after the end of former President Aoun’s term 10 days ago.
The session was attended by 108 deputies out of 128.
The voting process took place with the session reaching its quorum of 86 deputies.
The voting process was preceded by a protest from opposition MPs against the interpretation of some constitutional articles related to the quorum of the sessions.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri settled the debate by calling for a vote, without providing answers.
Blank ballots outnumbered votes for Moawad, this time 47 to 44.
Six votes went to the academic Issam Khalifa, seven protest votes for “a new Lebanon,” one “for Lebanon” and one for a “Plan B.”
Names of new candidates emerged, as one vote went to former Minister Ziyad Baroud and another to the presidential candidate and former Secretary- General of the Higher Council for Privatization Ziad Hayek.
As a result, neither candidate obtained the 65 votes needed to win the presidency in the first round, which called for a second voting round.
As in each of the previous four sessions, this fifth session lost its quorum, which prompted Berri to end it.
MP Moawad said that he maintained the average votes he obtained in each session.
MPs of the Lebanese Forces, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Kataeb Party, the Tajdid Bloc, and several independents continued to vote for him.
“Moawad would have obtained 49 votes, had it not been for the absence of 4 deputies from the session, whose votes usually go to Moawad’s favor,” said Rep. George Adwan.
The Free Patriotic Movement’s MPs were expected to choose a candidate, instead of casting blank ballots. However, most of the party’s MPs chose to go with blank ballots, as did the representatives of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Tashnaq Party and the Marada Movement.
Forces of Change Deputy Melhem Khalaf asked at the beginning of the session to keep the sessions open and to re-establish the quorum, suggesting that the two-thirds quorum should not be adopted in the second round of voting.
This is what Berri adheres to each time for holding the second session.
At the beginning of the session, MP Nadim Gemayel asked: “People are asking if this is a masquerade or a serious assembly. It’s not the people’s fault if a party can’t agree on a candidate,” to which Berri replied: “It is a political choice.”
MP Khalaf described Thursday’s session as “a repetition of an absurd scene in light of the deadlock and the failure of all initiatives leading to the election of a head of state.”
He added: “What is required is the election of a rescue president who is not the result of settlements, who can lead us out of the hole we are in and re-establish the authority.”