Lebanon’s parliament has – for the 12th time – failed to elect a president and break a political deadlock that has gripped the country for months.
Lawmakers held a session on Wednesday to pick a replacement for former President Michel Aoun, whose term ended last October, but disagreements prevented them from reaching the required thresholds.
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The main competition was between Jihad Azour, a former finance minister and senior official with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and Sleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada party whose family has a long history in Lebanese politics.
Reporting from Beirut, Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr said the Hezbollah alliance walked out just as it did during the previous 11 votes, showcasing how “deeply fractured” the Lebanese parliament has become.
“Hezbollah is insisting that they will not accept the candidate of the opposition, they call him a confrontational candidate.
“But Hezbollah has been criticised for imposing its own candidate, Sleiman Frangieh, a man who doesn’t really have legitimacy among his community, because the post of the president is reserved for a Christian in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, and the main Christian parties in Lebanon’s parliament are backing Jihad Azour.”
The Lebanese Parliament requires 86 from a possible maximum of 128 lawmakers, or two-thirds, to elect a new leader in the first round of voting.
Azour, who is supported by the opposition to the Iran-backed Hezbollah, edged higher than his opponent during the first round with 59 votes to Frangieh’s 51, but failed to achieve the required majority.
Eighteen lawmakers cast blank ballots or protest votes or voted for minority candidates.
The bloc led by the powerful Hezbollah withdrew after the initial round, breaking quorum and preventing a second round of voting, where candidates required only a majority of 65 votes to secure the presidency.
Lebanon has a complex confessional political system based on the National Pact, an unwritten pact between the country’s political blocs that was first agreed in 1943 to set out faith-based representation and power-sharing.
Based on the pact, the president and the commander of the army need to be Maronite Christians, while the prime minister must be Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker Shia Muslim.
The deputy speaker of parliament and deputy prime minister positions are held by Greek Orthodox Christians, and the armed forces chief of the general staff of the armed forces is always Druze.
The MPs themselves are divided along a quota system, with a ratio of 6:5 required of Christians to Muslims and Druze.
The Shia members of parliament have largely backed Frangieh, who is Hezbollah’s preferred candidate, while Azour is backed by the majority of Druze legislators.
When elected, the new president will have to navigate a major economic crisis that began in 2019, along with a political system that has long suffered from corruption and mismanagement.
Some have advocated a bailout deal with the IMF as a major component of Lebanon’s economic recovery, something that may favour Azour as he held the position of regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at the organisation until taking a leave of absence last week to pursue his candidacy.